Without the late safety car, Vettel would almost certainly have converted his third pole of the season into his third win of the season. But with the safety car, he was put in a position where he had to make a risky overtake on Bottas if he wanted the victory. He did so immediately at the restart but locked up and only just made the corner as he dropped back to fourth.
Despite losing a chunk of points, however, Vettel seems pretty mellow about the whole thing.
“I’m happy that I tried, I’m not happy that it didn’t work, but I have to try. I don’t think it was overly optimistic to jump down the inside. I wasn’t overly late, otherwise I don’t make the corner at all, but I did make it, just. I didn’t have any option – Lewis was on the right so I can’t close on him. Valtteri was ahead of me, he left a gap. I was surprised, judging the braking was very difficult.
“I was a bit trapped because I couldn’t see where I was relative to Turn 1. We have our references, and they are on the right – a kerb, the signs on the wall, and on the left there is hardly any reference. I had a decent restart, I saw the gap on the inside, and unfortunately I locked up. Without the lock-up, braking at the same point, I think I make the corner and it turns out to be a good move.
“It’s easy to say it didn’t work, so it is the wrong thing, but I had to try. We can’t let one or two seconds from the race have a shame on all the race, because there are a lot of positives.”
In fact, Vettel’s been pretty calm about a lot of things lately. He was very chilled in China about being punted around by Max Verstappen, too – a far cry from the days of him screaming about blue flags and telling Charlie Whiting to f••k off.
Bottas’ impending retirement could have elevated Vettel back to the podium, but he lost another place to Sergio Perez whilst he was trying to figure out how to deal with his flat-spotted tyre.
“With that flat spot, I tried to get back to the Force India. First I had to reshuffle a little bit and understand what the car balance was like with that flat spot. [Force India] were quick on the straights, then [Perez] had a tow from the cars ahead, and I had not really a chance to try something. Bit of a shame.
“Other than that I think it was a strong race, and that’s how it goes sometimes. Without the safety car it would have been easier for us – there is probably 47 laps of positive and maybe one turn without a positive note. It’s part of the game.”
Though he’s lost the championship lead for the first time this season, it seems like Vettel is more than confident in the all-around abilities of himself, his car and his team to be able to bounce back from the less-than-ideal last couple of races.
Last season Ferrari had a decent race car but was lacking to Mercedes in qualifying; this year the SF71H seems to be pretty strong at everything. Vettel is still surely the slim title favourite – for now, at least.