Sebastian Vettel admitted that he was not “totally comfortable” with the balance of his Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 car in Sunday’s French Grand Prix.
Vettel suffered a difficult Qualifying 3 session at Circuit Paul Ricard on Saturday, with a suspected gearbox issue truncating his first run and a difficult sole timed run leaving him only seventh on the grid.
The German managed to make up two places in the race, to the detriment of McLaren F1 Team duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr, but never looked in real touch of the leading quartet.
Vettel said that the timing of the start lights procedure caught him unawares, but did not deter him from weighing up a pass on Sainz Jr. into Turn 1.
“I had a pretty lonely race, apart from a bit of confusion at the start, given that the timing of the lights going out caught us a bit by surprise,” said Vettel.
“It was fun fighting with the McLarens, first Norris then Carlos.
“The first stint went pretty well and that meant I could close the gap to Charles [Leclerc, Ferrari team-mate] and Max [Verstappen]. Then in the second one, I had a few more balance problems and I didn’t feel totally comfortable with the car.”
Vettel was asked by race engineer Riccardo Adami to “go as long as possible” in his opening stint on medium tyres in order to close the gap to Verstappen and Leclerc, but a lockup into the first corner on lap 27 forced his and Ferrari’s hand.
Ferrari decided to make a late second stop for soft tyres to help Vettel get the extra point for fastest lap, with no threat from Sainz Jr in sixth place.
Vettel managed to set a new race lap record at Paul Ricard on the 53rd and final lap to take 11 points away from France, the best result he believes he could have realistically hoped for after qualifying.
The four-time champion continued to say that Ferrari does not have the pace to trouble runaway championship leaders Mercedes AMG Motorsport and that the team must find the reason for its planned upgrade package not having the desired effect in Friday’s practice sessions.
Ferrari reversed most of the upgraded package in preparation for the race.
“I think today’s fifth place was the most we could have done, given that Charles, Max and me were all running at pretty much the same pace,” Vettel added.
“At least getting the fastest race lap means I get an extra point.
“We still need to understand why Friday was so complicated with some of the parts we brought here not working as we had hoped.
“Our car is not yet strong enough and it’s down to us to improve. We still don’t have the pace to beat Mercedes, but I know that everyone at Maranello is working with so much positive pressure – and passion.”