Abu Dhabi: Formula One world championship leader Sebastian Vettel is taking nothing for granted despite his miraculous recovery in the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German Red Bull star twice fought his way through the field to clinch an unlikely place on the podium during a dramatic race at Yas Marina Circuit.
After qualifying third on Saturday, the two-time world champion was forced to start from the pitlane due to a fuel irregularity. And, after starting to pick his way through the field in the early stages of the race, Vettel damaged his front wing when he ploughed through a polystyrene speed marker and was forced to pit, again sending him to the back of the field.
But from there he produced a brilliant fightback that culminated in a late pass on McLaren’s Jenson Button that earned him third place, just behind winner Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Afterwards Vettel, whose championship lead over Alonso is now just 10 points with two races remaining, said: “It was a very hard race and I fought my way twice through the field. I damaged my front wing early in the race, but we managed to take care of that. I always believed after the first couple of laps that I should win.
“I had a nice fight with Jenson [Button] and I expected an easier time. It is very nice to be here and on this podium.
“We had fresh tyres and the pace was there. We had a strong position 20 laps to the end. The safety car helped a little bit, but it was a great, fantastic race. We know that it is difficult for us to get passed a Mercedes engine car. It is just great to be here.
“I am still the leader of the championship but things can change very, very quickly. We are looking forward to the next race.”
Vettel also believes his podium finish goes some way towards making up for his qualifying punishment, which he felt was unfair.
He was penalised for not having enough fuel on board to be driven back to the pit lane. F1 rules state that cars should have at least one litre of fuel remaining in the tank to be presented as a sample for testing, but Vettel had just 850ml.
“It was a mistake. We had enough fuel on paper and not in the car and we stopped the car not to damage anything,” Vettel said.
“The penalty was very harsh. We have to take it and the rules are clear. We thought we could stop the car and have enough fuel but it didn’t happen. We are talking about 200ml missing — it is not a lot and we had to pay a very hard price for this.”
Before Sunday, Vettel was undefeated since the Italian GP on September 9 and had won four consecutive races in the same season for the first time in his career. He also went past 1,000 career points in India to become the only F1 driver to average in excess of 10 points per start in his career (10.337).