Sebastian Vettel admits he was fortunate to come away with victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix after steering issues prevented him from ever breaking away in a race he otherwise led from start to finish.
His first win since the Monaco Grand Prix and his fourth of the season, the timely success ahead of the summer break means Vettel has swelled his lead over Lewis Hamilton to 14 points.
Vettel was made to work hard for the victory though after revealing he suffered damaged steering forced him to temper his speed by avoiding the kerbs, allowing team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton to get into the hunt.
However, with the tight and twisty Hungaroring posing a challenge for overtaking in the wider, faster cornering 2017 specification machines, neither could ultimately get close enough to punish Vettel’s conservative pace.
Despite drawing frustration from Raikkonen, who feared he would be passed by Hamilton if Ferrari didn’t allow him a shot at passing Vettel, the German admits he is relieved to get to the end of a ‘busy’ race unscathed.
“I had a very good pace and I think Kimi had a good pace, so I think he could go a lot faster than me for the majority of the race. I don’t know, I felt already that there was something not right when we dropped the car on the grid. Now, driving the car to the grid was fine but then for the formation lap when we dropped that the steering wheel was not straight
“I was talking through the problem and they told me to avoid the kerbs, which I was doing already, but on a track where you use the kerbs nearly on every corner it’s obviously also compromising your performance. In the second stint then I just wanted to make sure that I’ve got enough tyres with whatever problem I might face, so just towards the end of the race I’d have enough tyres. So of course I was holding it back a little bit. It’s not like I had an awful lot more pace.
“In the end I was really going flat out and obviously they were all behind me, queuing and it’s good that you can’t overtake that easily around this track but I had no room for error. It was a tricky race, with the lapped cars not the easiest to go through. As I said, there was no room to the cars behind. It was difficult but the mindset that I had half way through the race was “it doesn’t matter. I can’t change it now – I’d love to but can’t. We keep going and just try to hang in there as much as possible.”
“The race felt very, very long. Every lap I was looking down; it didn’t end. The last couple of laps I was able to find a bit of a rhythm, opened a bit of a gap, which helped me to take the very last bit of the race a bit easier through the traffic and controlled the race to the end. The result is great. How we got there was very tense but very happy, obviously great result for the team.”
Leading a Ferrari 1-2, Vettel accepts he wasn’t the fastest Ferrari driver in the race but was pleased to get the maximum result on a weekend that saw the team back to its early season form.
“I knew that Kimi doesn’t feel comfortable because he was a lot faster,” he continued. “I know that I wasn’t very quick, so not a great position, as he said, to be in the middle for him but for me obviously it was good because I had Kimi and then, let’s say, other people, so it was OK. In the end it’s not so easy to pass here. I still had some pace – I don’t think I was completely off the pace, which obviously helped. But not an easy on, as I touched on before.”