SAO PAULO • Sebastian Vettel believes Ferrari can look forward to the next Formula One season with optimism after victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Close to four months after claiming Ferrari's last win in Hungary, he finished 2.8 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen resisted challenges from newly-crowned four-time champion Lewis Hamilton to hang on to third.
Victory might have left Ferrari fans wondering what could have been if Vettel had had a good Asian swing, but the driver opted to focus on their revival this season after the team failed to reach the top step of the podium last term.
"We made the biggest step (out of all the teams)," he said after Ferrari's first win in Brazil since 2008 and his fifth success this year.
"In the end, we were there from the start and also until the end. We are in a position to fight for victory, we won here, two cars on the podium. There's a lot of positives.
"Of course if you miss out, it sort of sucks. There's no other way. But you have to be fair as well.
"We hadn't been very competitive last year, we hadn't been very good developing the car and we've made massive progress this year.
"We can all feel that we're getting stronger so, hopefully, we can carry that strength into the next couple of years."
Bottas saw his hopes of overhauling Vettel for the runner-up position in the championship effectively disappear when he lost the lead to the eventual winner at the start. He has 280 points, 22 behind the German with only the Abu Dhabi season-ender left.
Hamilton (345 points) saw his unassailable lead cut to 43 despite producing the drive of the day from last to fourth for Mercedes, champions for the fourth straight year.
The Briton, who sealed the title in Mexico two weeks ago, started from the pit lane after changes to his car following a crash in qualifying. But he finished only 5.4 seconds behind Vettel with a performance Mercedes boss Toto Wolff hailed as "a champion's drive".
Hamilton said: "I messed up yesterday. Waking up this morning, my goal was really kind of just to redeem myself."
Felipe Massa, 36, was seventh but got to bid his home fans farewell from the Interlagos podium.
"I drove a perfect race from the beginning to the end," said the Williams driver, who will retire after the Abu Dhabi race. "Today definitely was like a victory, and it was so amazing to finish and feel the emotion of the people."
His son Felipinho, seven, told him over the team radio after the chequered flag: "Daddy, I am so proud of you."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS