Second victory of the year, 28th Formula 1 career win, back-to-back triumphs at Sakhir, Sebastian Vettel did not put a foot wrong on his way to dominating the Bahrain Grand Prix. The reigning champion returns to Europe, from a tough four race flyaway stanza, leading the championship standings by ten points. He spoke about his maximum big points haul in the desert.
Sebastian Vettel: First of all, thank you very much, fantastic race. Big, big thank you to the team. A flawless, seamless race from start to finish. I knew it was crucial straight away after the start to get into the lead if I could and then go from there and look after the tyres. The pace was phenomenal. The car was very quick and it just started to get better and better towards the end. Really, a beautiful race where you could push every single lap. We took care of the tyres, so overall very happy. Also to have a woman on the podium [is good], I think it’s not happening every day. Gill Jones, she takes care of our electronics in the team, she looks after the boys, so great to have her up here as well.
There certainly was great wheel-to-wheel action on those early laps. Can you recall much of it? Was that just instinctive racing or can you give us a standout point from those early laps before you went on to your dominant victory?
SV: There’s no alcohol in this, so I can recall, yes. It was obviously very tight already in the first corner with Fernando on the outside. Unfortunately I had to give way. I wanted to line it up to get Nico probably on the next straight but then Fernando squeezed in. But then I got him back which was crucial. I saved some KERS and could out-accelerate him into Turn 6. And then Nico was a tough one. I really had to think for a while because he was quite quick down the straights. Obviously the headwind today helped all the cars behind but still it wasn’t as straightforward as I was hoping for and then again quite tight and out of Turn 4 I again managed to save a little bit of KERS up and got him on the inside and the track was clear and we could unfold the true pace of the car. Again, very, very straightforward race and incredible the pace we have today. We surely did not expect that. In the end it was quite controlled. We managed the gaps and we still had enough tyres to push towards the end. The other thing I would finally point out is congratulations to Renault. It’s the same order as last year so basically the first three cars on Renault engines. The guys back in Viry in France are pushing very, very hard and sometimes get criticised for not having the strongest engine but in the end we stand up here, three Renault-powered cars, so merci beaucoup, well done to them and looking forward to the next races.
Was that the sort of race you expected? Long periods when you just seemed out on your own, driving against a delta – or did you just expect it to be much more closely competitive than that?
SV: Surely I did not expect that. I think, yeah, was pretty dominant today, as I said, certainly not the expectation. Yeah, in the beginning, obviously quite tight, wheel-to-wheel racing. I knew it would be crucial to get in the lead if I can because then you have a little bit of an advantage, looking after your tyres and managing the race from there. I could feel that I was able to pull away and the medium compound felt pretty strong but then obviously we had three sets of new hards and for us the car seemed to work very well on those tyres. Obviously I realised in the second stint that I was able to open a gap so I thought, ‘right, I’ll take my chance as much as I can to pull away.’ Because you know it can only help at the end of the race, you don’t know what is going to happen. It probably buys us some flexibility. Fortunately we never got into a pressure situation again. But a very strong race. We were able to look after the tyres and really manage every stint the best way we could. I have to say, big compliments to the guys at home, to the guys here, on the strategy side. Yesterday wasn’t probably that straight forward but we decided to save the tyres that I mentioned and they seemed to work very good today and we had a very strong race, it all worked in our direction, so very pleased.
How crucial was it to get that place back from Fernando early on and do you think you would have been able to win with the advantage you eventually you had without getting him back at the start?
SV: Well, certainly we had more pace than we expected today, which I think is related to the way that we worked with the tyres. We know that the car is quick, we saw that yesterday that we were able to pull a strong qualifying lap together. Sure, it was crucial because another car in front and especially once you start to settle into a rhythm it’s difficult to overtake. I think today it was probably helped a little bit by the fact that there was quite a strong headwind down the main straight, so the advantage for DRS or for overtake was probably a little bit bigger than usual. At the beginning, I thought that if there was a small chance to get into the lead I have to take it because then I can take care of the tyres the way I like and hopefully divert the race the way that we planned beforehand, whereas if you sit behind someone and get stuck then you struggle, you lose grip, you start to slide and the tyres start to go off and you might have a different race, but surely with the pace that we had, I think we could have had a strong race, even not being in the lead immediately but I preferred it that way for sure.
We’ve heard quite a few negative comments about Pirelli’s rubber so far this year but the loudest voices that have complained have come from your team. Now you’re actually leading the Drivers’, leading the Constructors’ (championships); we’re seeing you do very well. Does this mean that we’re going to see an end to the complaints from Milton Keynes about the Pirelli tyres?
SV: Well, I think that certainly the fact that we won the Constructors’ championship the last three years makes people listen so probably more than other people. At least, from my point of view, I did talk about the tyres, I did complain but I always said that as long as there are other people doing a better job then we have no right to complain, we need to catch up. I don’t think you have to be a genius to see that from race to race some people suffer with the tyres – maybe someone more and some people less – and cannot go the true pace of their cars. It’s obviously very strategic these days but then again, it’s the same for all of us. Out of four races, I think we’ve had two good ones and two maybe average ones but then if you look at the results, the average is not really disastrous either. To come third and fourth is a very strong result and I’m sure not complaining about the results. Comparing Formula One to a couple of years ago, you probably have to ask Kimi more than me but it’s surely different, the fact that you can’t push as hard as you like every lap, you have to work with the tyres and sit at a certain pace and go from there. So I think that’s what we – at least the drivers that I have talked to – that’s what we think is very different and to some extent less enjoyable than in the past.
How different is this win to Malaysia, where there was a lot of criticism, and do you think that without Fernando’s DRS problem it might have been a little bit harder today?
SV: Regarding the second question, I don’t know or I can’t judge the Ferrari’s pace. I think the last couple of races they have been very strong, so everything else but a strong performance today would have been a surprise to be honest. But how strong, I don’t know. I think we felt pretty happy today and in very good shape. I don’t know where Felipe finished but we can’t really judge Fernando’s race with the problem that he had with the DRS that I was told, so difficult to say. The first question was? Ah yes, if you race for victory, you try to pass whoever is in front of you so I think Malaysia is a long time ago now, I think we’ve moved on and I think that in terms of crossing the line first there’s no difference. But obviously we were in a better position at the beginning of the race already, so a very very different race in that regard.
With these tyres, who would you rate as your strongest competitor for the championship?
SV: Well, I don’t know. It’s a long long championship. I think if you look at the first four races Lotus is very quick, they manage the tyres pretty well in the race. Ferrari is very quick, the cars haven’t changed too much compared to last year. If you look, pure performance is very tight. On a Sunday it can be different because of the way you take care of the tyres; sometimes you’re in a better shape, sometimes not. But I think the Ferrari is an all-round car as in they’re always quick and they’ve been very competitive in the race. Mercedes is surely very quick over a lap but probably a little bit too aggressive with the tyres. Yeah, a little bit surprised by McLaren but I think they will come back at some stage this year, probably already in Barcelona and that’s how it is but to point out the main rivals, I think we need to look after ourselves, make sure we score points and everything else is difficult to predict.
We know that Christian Horner is pushing Pirelli for harder tyres and we saw that it looks like today your car behaves a bit better on hard tyres. You had three sets of new hard tyres. Can you comment on that?
SV: Well, I’m not sure I understood everything but I think on the tyre strategy we were more or less committed to that yesterday, using all the softs in qualifying and able to position ourselves on the front row nicely for the race, and then trying to make the first stint as long as possible and go from there with three sets of new hard tyres. In the end, I think there was not that much difference between the medium and the hard, we already saw that yesterday on high fuel performance. We felt a little bit happier on long runs, probably on the hard, that’s why we decided to go that way and it seemed to work. It’s difficult to say how good or bad the medium would have been because we didn’t have a new set of medium tyres. I didn’t see what other people did but I think that the fact that we sit here is pointing out that we did a good job today on that front.