SHANGHAI (AP) — Sebastian Vettel didn’t get another win for Ferrari at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, but he was more than satisfied with another podium finish — his third to start the year.
The four-time world champion stayed close to the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg while running on soft tires for the first half of the race, but started to fade after pitting for the second time and switching to hard tires.
Vettel ended up third, adding another podium to his surprise win at the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago and his third-place result at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
He’s now just one podium finish shy of matching his total from last year — his final season with Red Bull before joining Ferrari.
“It’s been three out of three so far, so it feels pretty good,” said Vettel, who also stayed in second place in the drivers’ standings, four points ahead of Rosberg and 13 behind Hamilton.
Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, came up just short of nudging him off the podium Sunday. The Finn was trailing by 1.6 seconds toward the end of the race before the safety car came out and cemented the drivers’ positions with two laps to go.
“I was catching up, I knew I had the speed and I thought I still had good tires. I could still have had a chance to try and fight for podium but the safety car came in and we know we cannot change that,” Raikkonen said.
Ferrari backed up its win in Malaysia with good pace at the Shanghai International Circuit and smart tire strategy that forced its rivals in the Mercedes cars to pay more attention to their own tire degradation, which proved its key flaw two weeks ago in the tropical heat at Sepang.
“Today we ended up where we were supposed to be, so we can say we achieved our target,” new Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “I never promised we’d be making miracles to anyone. Our strategy was to get as close as possible to Mercedes, getting ready to take advantage of any mistake from them.”
Vettel has been cautious about overstating Ferrari’s chances of contending for the championship this year, repeatedly saying Mercedes is still in another league compared to the other F1 teams.
But he sounded a bit more optimistic after Sunday’s race.
“All-in-all (we were) closer here, which is great for us,” Vettel said. “If we keep doing that, and keep getting closer, obviously there’s a point where we are some real challenge for these guys, which I’m looking forward to.”
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