Sochi – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel defended world championship rivals Mercedes on Sunday after Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix on the back of controversial team orders.
The four-time world champion, who slipped 50 points behind Hamilton after finishing third behind him and Valtteri Bottas, said it was a “no-brainer” for Mercedes to use team orders.
Talking to reporters at the post-race news conference, Vettel said: “I think ‘well done’ to both of them – they played together as a team very well.
“In their defence, all the questions, (and) I know that you guys love controversy and therefore ask some naughty questions to them as individuals.
“(Well), I think in the position that they are, it was a no-brainer what they did today so maybe not all the questions are justified.”
He added that despite his points deficit, he remained optimistic about mounting a late challenge for the drivers’ title.
“I still believe in our chances, yes,” he said. “It takes one DNF (did not finish) and all of a sudden, things look different – ideally two! Which I’m not wishing to Lewis, but you never know what happens.
“So we need to stay on top of our game, which maybe we haven’t been completely this weekend. Make sure that from where we are now, we focus on winning the last races.”
Meanwhile, Vettel admitted he did not see Hamilton in his Ferrari mirrors when the pair battled for position during a classic mid-race scrap.
The German was accused of performing a double-defensive move by the Mercedes driver as he blocked Hamilton to stop him passing.
“I didn’t see him and I wasn’t sure where he was,” said Vettel.
“I saw he was on the outside and I needed to give him room even if I didn’t want to – so it was fair, it remained fair, but he got past.”
Hamilton had complained that the move was not fair.
“Ultimately, for me, he did move over to the inside and moved again and he nearly put me in the wall.
“I thought it was a double-move, but the race stewards didn’t see it that way.”
A stewards’ investigation decided the tussle was a normal racing incident and no further action was needed.
Hamilton reacted to the incident with another on-track attack that saw him swoop by on the inside.
“I think everyone had the same pace, but we managed the tyres differently,” said Vettel.
“I tried to put pressure on Valtteri, when I was behind, but I couldn’t get close enough, and then, when he backed off and lost 1.5 seconds, I had a tiny lock-up and Lewis had new tyres… Mine were only a lap old.
“I think we were close, but it’s not what we wanted.”
Vettel added: “It was tricky. They worked well together and, at the start, I had nowhere to go.
“Then, we surprised them with a good out-lap (after his pit stop) and I managed to jump Lewis and Valtteri. Lewis was close, but then we nearly had a run-in.”
Results from Russian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes-AMG) 310 kilometres in 1hr 27min 25.181sec (average speed 213 km/h)
2. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes-AMG) at 2.545sec
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari) at 7.487
4. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari) at 16.543
5. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) at 31.016
6. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull) at 1:20.451
7. Charles Leclerc (MON/Sauber) at 1:38.390
8. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) at 1 lap
9. Estéban Ocon (FRA/Force India) at 1 lap
10. Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India) at 1 lap
11. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas) at 1 lap
12. Nico Hülkenberg (GER/Renault) at 1 lap
13. Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber) at 1 lap
14. Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren-Renault) at 1 lap
15. Lance Stroll (CAN/Williams) at 1 lap
16. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Renault) at 2 laps
17. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL/McLaren-Renault) at 2 laps
18. Sergey Sirotkin (RUS/Williams) at 2 laps
Formula One world championship standings after Russian Grand Prix on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) 306 pts, 2. Sebastian Vettel (GER) 256, 3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) 189, 4. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) 186, 5. Max Verstappen (NED) 158, 6. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) 134, 7. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) 53, 8. Nico Hlkenberg (GER) 53, 9. Fernando Alonso (ESP) 50, 10. Sergio Perez (MEX) 47, 11. Estban Ocon (FRA) 47, 12. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) 38, 13. Pierre Gasly (FRA) 28, 14. Romain Grosjean (FRA) 27, 15. Charles Leclerc (MON) 21, 16. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) 8, 17. Lance Stroll (CAN) 6, 18. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) 6, 19. Brendon Hartley (NZL) 2, 20. Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) 1
1. Mercedes-AMG 495 pts, 2. Ferrari 442, 3. Red Bull 292, 4. Force India 94, 5. Renault 91, 6. Haas 80, 7. McLaren-Renault 58, 8. Toro Rosso-Honda 30, 9. Sauber 27, 10. Williams 7