Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel defended world championship rivals Mercedes on Sunday after Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix on the back of controversial team orders.
The four-time world champion, who slipped 50 points behind Hamilton after finishing third behind him and Valtteri Bottas, said it was a “no-brainer” for Mercedes to use team orders.
Talking to reporters at the post-race news conference, Vettel said: “I think ‘well done’ to both of them – they played together as a team very well.
“In their defence, all the questions, [and] I know that you guys love controversy and therefore ask some naughty questions to them as individuals."
“I think in the position they are, it was a no-brainer what they did today, so maybe not all the questions are justified.”
He added that despite his points deficit, he remained optimistic about mounting a late challenge for the drivers’ title.
“I still believe in our chances, yes,” he said. “It takes one DNF [did not finish] and all of a sudden, things look different – ideally two! Which I’m not wishing to Lewis, but you never know what happens.
“So we need to stay on top of our game, which maybe we haven’t been completely this weekend. Make sure that from where we are now, we focus on winning the last races.”
Meanwhile, Vettel admitted he did not see Hamilton in his Ferrari mirrors when the pair battled for position during a classic mid-race scrap.
The German was accused of performing a double-defensive move by the Mercedes driver as he blocked Hamilton to stop him passing.
“I didn’t see him and I wasn’t sure where he was,” Vettel said. “I saw he was on the outside and I needed to give him room even if I didn’t want to – so it was fair, it remained fair, but he got past.”
Hamilton had complained that the move was not fair.
“Ultimately, for me, he did move over to the inside and moved again and he nearly put me in the wall.
“I thought it was a double-move, but the race stewards didn’t see it that way.”
A stewards’ investigation decided the tussle was a normal racing incident and no further action was needed.
Hamilton reacted to the incident with another on-track attack that saw him swoop by on the inside.
“I think everyone had the same pace, but we managed the tyres differently,” said Vettel.
“I tried to put pressure on Valtteri, when I was behind, but I couldn’t get close enough, and then, when he backed off and lost 1.5 seconds, I had a tiny lock-up and Lewis had new tyres . . . Mine were only a lap old.
“I think we were close, but it’s not what we wanted.”
Vettel added: “It was tricky. They worked well together and, at the start, I had nowhere to go. Then we surprised them with a good out-lap [after his pit stop] and I managed to jump Lewis and Valtteri. Lewis was close, but then we nearly had a run-in.” A downcast Lewis Hamilton said his victory in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix aided by Mercedes team orders was “the strangest day” of his career.
“It’s honestly the strangest day I can remember having in the sport in my career,” said reigning world champion Hamilton. “I remember we’ve crossed the situation before and I’ve always felt super uncomfortable.
“I want to win the right way. As racing drivers, we exist to win. If you tell us we can’t win, it’s taking our air away, it’s taking our life away. It’s not how I want to win.
“It’s important to acknowledge Valtteri, who was the absolute gentleman. We have to embrace the moment still, but it’s the win on my list of wins that I’m least proud of.