Sebastian Vettel admits he knew Max Verstappen had a penalty before making an ambitious move that saw the Scuderia Ferrari driver spun at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel’s championship hopes hang on by a thread as the German driver made another crucial mistake that has affected the gap to championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
One once 50 point gap has now increased to 67 after Vettel made an ambitious pass on Verstappen on Lap 10 at the Spoon. Vettel was far back but carried more speed than the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver going into the corner, but the move proved to be costly as Vettel made contact and spun to the back of the field.
After Ferrari’s error in qualifying which saw Vettel start the race in eighth, he made up to fourth on the first lap before his race-defining attempt to pass Verstappen dropped him down the field. Vettel was able to claw his way through to finish in sixth place as his main title rival took the top step of the podium.
Despite the mistakes and a heavy points loss in both championships, Vettel said that seeing the team work was ‘inspirational’ and claims the team doesn’t have much to lose now with four races to go.
“Today, I found it quite inspirational walking through the garage and watching the guys work! All the team is fired up and that certainly helps, as the last couple of weeks haven’t been that easy,” said Vettel.
“The spirit is unbroken despite everything. Races like this are a bit of a hand-over and we know it is difficult from where we are in the point standings, but we don’t have much to lose.
“We have given everything so far and I believe there’s still something we can learn and understand from the car. So we keep fighting and resisting and we’ll see what the other races bring.”
Vettel’s second half of the championship has shaken up his title aspirations. Ever since his victory at the British Grand Prix, the German has made critical errors that has affected his results and helped Hamilton extend his lead in the championship.
In order for Vettel to remain in the championship hunt, he’ll need to finish in the Top 2 at the United States Grand Prix to keep his hopes alive. He is 67 points away from the lead with 100 points left available.
Verstappen gained a penalty after leaving the track and returning in an unsafe matter at the Casio chicane, leaving Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Räikkönen to go off the track and compromising his position.
Vettel went for the gap after the safety car restart at Spoon, which ultimately cost him vital points. He admitted that he knew that Verstappen had a penalty but still insisted on going for the position as he felt the Ferrari had much pace than the Red Bull driver.
“As for the collision with Max, I was obviously pushing to pass, I knew he had a penalty, but I also felt that we were fast,” added Vettel.
“I could see that his battery was clipping, while I had saved some energy from mine. I saw a gap and went for it on the inside, he obviously tried to defend and I couldn’t go anywhere, so we touched. However, this is part of racing.”