MELBOURNE • Sebastian Vettel has admitted that Ferrari's aggressive tyre strategy probably worked against him, as he relinquished the lead to Nico Rosberg in yesterday's Australian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver went on to win the race, the season-opener for Formula One, eight seconds ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who started on pole.
Vettel had passed both Mercedes drivers going into the first turn and appeared poised for an unlikely win but the race turned on its head when McLaren's Fernando Alonso crashed into Haas' Esteban Gutierrez on the 18th lap.
The Spaniard's car careened into a barrier and was smashed to pieces before it flipped, rolled and flew end-over-end into another barrier.
Alonso walked away from the wreckage but the red flag came out to halt the race for around 10 minutes as track staff swept away debris and repaired the barriers.
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
1. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1hr 48min 15.565sec
2. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +00:08.060
3. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +00:09.643
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull +00:24.330
5. Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams +00:58.979
6. Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas +01:12.081
7. Nico Huelkenberg (Ger) Force India +01:14.199
8. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams +01:15.153
9. Carlos Sainz (Esp) Toro Rosso +01:15.680
10. Max Verstappen (Ned) Toro Rosso +01:16.833
1. Nico Rosberg 25
2. Lewis Hamilton 18
3. Sebastian Vettel 15
4. Daniel Ricciardo 12
5. Felipe Massa 10
1. Mercedes 43
2. Ferrari 15
3. Williams 14
4. Red Bull Racing 12
5. Haas 8
During the break, Mercedes opted to run both cars on medium compound tyres and rode them to the finish, while Ferrari took the more aggressive route, sticking with their super-softs, which were quicker but required another stop.
The mistake proved costly and was compounded when Vettel's next tyre change was botched.
"We went for the aggressive route," said the German after finishing third. "Maybe with hindsight we could have done something else, but I don't want to blame anyone.
"It's a shame the other car (Kimi Raikkonen) didn't make it but it is positive. The team are in good shape, we know we can up our game and put pressure on these guys.
You can argue the red flag didn't help us, but once it plays into our favour and then catches you out."
He took comfort from Ferrari's improved performance, saying they were much closer to Mercedes this year after finishing a distant second last season.
"Definitely we were a lot closer than last year," he said. "We are on the right track and things are coming together. All in all we are a lot closer, so plenty of positives."
Raikkonen, however, probably would not agree. The Finn retired with an engine problem and had flames coming out of the air box of his car when he came into the pits.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was happy to limit the damage of a terrible start. He said: "Having to fight back from behind, it's very, very hard to follow as we all know from the history here. I did the best I could with a difficult start and yeah, just grateful I got back.
"(It was) damage limitation because obviously Nico could have got a lot more points than me today."
Rosberg has now won four races in succession, after sweeping the final three races last season in the wake of Hamilton clinching his second successive world championship in Texas.
"The strategy was crucial today, so I'm really thankful the team did a good job on that," the ecstatic Rosberg told reporters. "The car's just been unreal today."
Yesterday the Mercedes drivers hugged after the race in a rare sporting moment.
The good relations continued in the post-race media conference with Rosberg offering an apology for the start that set the Briton back. "If I did push you out wide then I apologise. Of course, that was not the intention," he said.
The feel-good factor extended to the rest of the paddock, with relief that Alonso had escaped serious injury.
The Spaniard said he was "thankful to be alive", adding: "There is some pain in the knees because you are bouncing a lot in the cockpit. But apart from that everything should be okay."
"We are lucky we are both okay. For the safety of those cars is why I am alive - and the safety wall. I think it was a racing thing and sometimes we forget we are going 300kmh."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS