Sebastian Vettel was on fine form in the F1 Drivers’ press conference in Abu Dhabi ahead of the final round, joking that if there were a “fair play” award in F1, he would not win it.
But in a more serious mood, he paid tribute to the progress made by the team’s engineers in Maranello; having played a part in Ferrari’s transition from a winless 2016 Formula 1 season to emerging in the battle for the 2017 championship.
Vettel observed that he and the team had learned from their collective mistakes over 2017, which had cost Ferrari the chance to secure the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Vettel also felt that having lost the championship battle to Lewis Hamilton in Mexico has given Ferrari the chance to approach the final two races in preparation for 2018. The German won the previous race at Interlagos, beating polesitter Valtteri Bottas to victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
“We made the biggest step this year; I think if we can do similar step for next season – don’t get me wrong, it’s a joke and Germans don’t joke – but it should be a walk in the park!
“I think what I want to say with that is, the step that we’ve done this year is incredible. The way that the team’s come out with a competitive car in the beginning, the way that we’ve improved in both chassis and engine – on all fronts – has been outstanding.
“We’ve been close for most of the year, not close enough when it mattered, but from that we made our conclusions and learned our lessons, so I believe that all of those will help us next year.
“We’re completely fired up. It was bitter [to lose the title] but I think it was actually a positive that we have a couple of races to approach and to look forward to next year.”
Although Ferrari currently trails Mercedes by 130 points in the constructors’ championship, which Mercedes clinched in the United States Grand Prix, it is nonetheless a marked improvement. Last year, Ferrari ended the season third in the standings and 367 points behind the Silver Arrows, also falling behind Red Bull Racing in the pecking order.
Will Vettel and Hamilton duel again next year?
Hamilton and Vettel also recounted their favourite moments in 2017 in which the pair raced wheel-to-wheel, and were both keen on the idea of more close-quarters battles on-track in the future – both citing their duel at Spa-Francorchamps as a particular example.
Most notably, the championship battle between the two reached boiling point at Baku, in which Vettel swerved into the side of Hamilton under the safety car, having earlier run into the back of his Mercedes and accusing the Brit of brake-checking him.
However, the two conceded that they enjoyed the majority of their duels this season, and welcomed the prospect of more battles should Ferrari and Mercedes again be in a position to battle for the championship next year.
“No, I don’t think we need to touch on [Baku] again!” Vettel said. “I think it’s been a good season, close, more wheel-to-wheel would be nice.
“I think Spa was a really intense race. I was trying to push [Lewis] all race. I probably had sort of a chance but he was very clever defending, up the hill, up Eau Rouge.
“I think it’s been a fun year. Obviously when you are racing that close, with hardly any mistakes, I think it’s fair to say also that this year Lewis probably made less mistakes and in the end he was just the better man and he deserved to win.”
Hamilton added: “I agree with what Sebastian said, in the sense that it was great to have those close battles. Spa was awesome.
“To be fighting a four-time world champion whom you respect, you expect nothing but the best from them and no mistakes.
“When you have races like Spa, where it’s really down to one of you making the smallest mistake, and none of us did, I’m looking forward to many more of those races in the future.”
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