Sebastian Vettel defended Ferrari’s gamble to send him out on intermediate tyres on a dry track during qualifying for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix even though the move backfired and left him ninth on the grid.
Ferrari, expecting rain, sent Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen out on the intermediate tyres at the start of the final shootout phase of qualifying. But the track stayed dry and forced the pair back into the pits to change on to the slick super-soft tyres.
The planning error cost Vettel dear, with spots of rain beginning to grease the track and leading him to make a mistake on his first flying lap. With the rain intensifying and drenching the track, he did not get another shot.
In contrast, Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton was out on the super-soft tyres from the start and clinched pole in his Mercedes.
"When the conditions are like this, then obviously you either get it right or get it wrong, so I’m not blaming anybody," said Vettel, whose slim title hopes suffered a further setback on Saturday.
"If it (had) started to rain five, six, seven minutes earlier, then we did a miracle because we were the only clever ones, but if it’s like that, then obviously we’re the only ones who look stupid. Therefore I defend the decision. It’s our decision as a team," added the four-time champion.
Vettel trails Hamilton by 50 points in the overall standings with only four races to go after Sunday’s Japanese round. The Briton, winner of five of the last six races had always been favourite for pole, having dominated practice.
But Vettel, who has won five races to Hamilton’s eight, had closed the gap in the build-up to qualifying. Instead of putting himself in a position to challenge Hamilton, Vettel`s title chances appear to be fading fast.
"Yeah, that’s a pretty grim starting position for him (Vettel),” acknowledged Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. "He has a fast car but obviously just fighting against Lewis if everything runs well with us, it`s going to be difficult off the start."