Last year a fifth place for Sebastian Vettel would have been seen as a total disaster, but it’s a sign of the times that he was relieved to come away from the Chinese GP with that result.
From his lowly grid position of 11th Vettel tumbled further down the order after a bad start. With a two-stop strategy he hauled himself into second place in the closing laps, only for his tyres to fade away and allow three of his closest title rivals to jump ahead.
The consensus in the Red Bull camp was that a fourth and fifth for Mark Webber and Vettel was a respectable result on a weekend that was almost treated like a test as the two drivers ran different exhaust specs. That experiment has at least generated some good information.
“We have to take the lessons on board and make the right changes and go in the right direction for next week,” said Vettel. “But generally I think race pace was OK compared to qualifying, where we weren’t that strong. But nevertheless we are losing out on the straights compared to other people, which doesn’t help, particularly in qualifying when it’s close and in the race when you want to pass. All in all I think we can be pretty happy given the first lap, when I think I was only P15.”
Seb admitted that he’d simply messed up his launch of the grid, and had then lost out further in the first corner scramble.
“I think I missed out a little bit on the start, I was a bit too late, I wasn’t entirely happy finding the revs and was a bit confused. I lost the initial bit when the lights went off, usually I’m pretty quick, but I was one of the last ones. I didn’t wake up early enough.
“Then I lost two positions to the Williams, then in Turn One they crashed into each other a little bit. I hit the brakes, I didn’t know what was going to happen, and then I lost a couple of positions. I nearly lost a position to a Caterham, which was a pretty bad stage after the first lap!
“It was pretty difficult to imagine where you are going be in the last stint given the race we had. I think it was a good recovery, but obviously I was a long time on those tyres at the end.
“Too long, so those last five laps were really difficult. It was obvious that I would struggle to stay in second and keep position, so I had to give way to Jenson and Lewis and Mark at the end. Nevertheless we can be happy with fifth, we were only P15 on the first lap.
“I don’t think there was much overtaking. The best one I had was against Kimi, but I had to force it. I was hoping that he would just sneak back into the chain right behind me and hold up other people, but unfortunately he lost position to the others as well, and then it was easy for the McLarens who had eight or 10 laps fresher tyres to get past.”
Vettel said he was powerless to defend his position from Button, Hamilton and Webber.
“I had no more tyres left. Of course, sitting in the car you try to get them back to life, get a little bit more out of them, but they were pretty dead. I had to react with brake balance, diff, everything I had. There was nothing I could have done. It’s a shame, the podium was yet to close, yet so far. Nevertheless as I said good points, and a good recovery from 15th.”
Summing up his weekend, he said: “Qualifying was poor, we know that we have a couple of weaknesses, one is speed on the straights, the other one is that the car is probably not yet working the way we want it to be. Nevertheless it was an interesting weekend, we collected a lot of data on different cars, we ended up more or less in the same place, which is quite funny.”