SUZUKA, Japan — Sebastian Vettel refused to accept responsibility for his incident with Max Verstappen at the Japanese Grand Prix, one that has seen his title challenge fall in a heap.
Vettel, who started P8 due to a weather misjudgment by Ferrari in qualifying, made his way up to fourth by the end of the first lap in Suzuka. However, it all went horribly wrong seven laps later when he botched an attempted pass on Verstappen for third place.
Upon entry into Spoon Curve, Vettel looked to dive down the inside of the Red Bull but quickly ran out of track as Verstappen turned into the corner. The pair made contact which sent Vettel spinning off the circuit, and with a bunched field due to an earlier Safety Car, he was forced to wait until everyone had passed before re-joining the track in last place.
After the race, Vettel confirmed that the move was on, claiming that once again Verstappen crossed the line of how hard to defend.
“I had a good exit and the gap was there, otherwise I don’t do it,” Vettel said. “But as soon as he realises somebody is close or next to him he tries to, in my opinion, push when you shouldn’t push anymore. I saved my battery, I had more speed, I would make the corner. I was side by side then he didn’t give me enough room and we touched.
“It’s normal that sometimes it gets close but you’ve got to always leave the space and in that case I couldn’t go anywhere, then we touched.
“I mean, look at Kimi [Raikkonen]. He’s off the track, he comes back. If Kimi just drives on they collide. It’s not always right the other guy has to move.”
Vettel was referring to the opening lap battle between Verstappen and Ferrari teammate Raikkonen where the Dutchman missed the apex at the chicane and ran deep before aggressively rejoining and clattering into the Finn.
Verstappen, who eventually finished third, was hit with a five-second time penalty for the collision but the stewards ruled no further action for the incident with Vettel. Meanwhile, Vettel fought through the midfield teams to finish P6 and as a result slips 67 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
However, the German confirmed Ferrari’s team spirit is still sky-high despite the second half of their season being filled with errors and missed opportunities.
“I find it quite inspirational, you walk in the garage and the guys are all fired up,” Vettel said. “Obviously it’s not been an easy couple of weeks but the spirit in the team, considering how tough the last weeks have been is unbroken.
“We know that it’s difficult from where we are. What do we have to lose? We give it everything we can. I think there’s still some important things that we can understand and learn about the car.”