Sebastian Vettel has defended his strategy to overtake Max Verstappen while preparing for the final run in Q3 of qualifying by explaining he was forced to push on after fearing he would be caught out by the end of the session.
The Ferrari driver was in the middle of the train of drivers on an out lap preparing for the final Q3 lap at the Chinese Grand Prix but was warned he would be timed out in the session if he didn’t speed up to start the lap before the chequered flag.
As a result, Vettel went around the outside of Verstappen in the Red Bull at the penultimate corner, unsettling the Dutch driver, before both Renault drivers also passed Verstappen in the run to the final corner which forced him to effectively abandon his final run.
Feeling confident of challenging the Ferraris for the second row, Verstappen made his feelings clear both over team radio and after the session to the media by laying the blame on Vettel.
Vettel, who jumped up to third place thanks to his final lap, has explained he had to overtake a slow-moving Verstappen and feels he was “not aware” of missing out on his final lap.
“If you are at the end of the straight which I was then it was quite difficult,” Vettel said. “When the team told me that we only have ten seconds margin to cross the line in time to make another attempt, I had to think of something.
“I don’t know if others were not told. If everyone would have speeded up the way I did then we would have all made it. I obviously prioritised at that point to make the lap. It felt like the others were not aware.”
Questioned on whether he feels qualifying format changes are needed to avoid repeat problems, the German driver dismissed the idea.
“No, I don’t think so, obviously everybody I guess timed it around the same so we all left for the same spot,” he said.
Despite his disappointment at not bridging the gap to the Mercedes pair, who secured a front row lockout with Valtteri Bottas on pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton, Vettel is confident he can fight back for Ferrari with its straight-line speed advantage in tomorrow’s race.
“[The gap is] too big. I would like it to be the other way around, but I think we had a decent session,” he assessed. “Obviously important if we can’t beat them to be right behind them. It buys us some options tomorrow.
“The track ramped up. You can see the lap times from where we started in Q1 to Q3. Obviously there is a bit in yourself, a bit in the engine modes and stuff what people are doing but I think that’s fairly normal.
“On our side, we were able to improve the car from where it was yesterday. So I’m reasonably happy with that but not entirely happy, I think there was a little bit more. It was a bit tricky today to put the laps together.”