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Sebastian Vettel rose by ten places to finish fifth in China on Sunday, capitalising from 15th place on Lap 1 to fifth at the finish. However, the World Champion was running second before being overhauled by both McLarens and team-mate Mark Webber in the closing stages. He admitted his confusion after the race.
Having elected to revert to Red Bull’s old exhaust configuration on Friday, Vettel has struggled to match Webber’s pace all weekend; this was reflected in qualifying, as he failed to make the Q3 cut and started 11th on the grid – his worst since 2009.
Today, pit-stops helped make up for a bad start in the opening stint before the German pulled out a string of impressive and clean overtaking manoeuvres. He then fell back late in the race.
“I think had no tyres left,” he explained to BBC Sport before going through the move in which Webber passed around the outside of the Turn 14 hairpin. “You could ask the same question about losing the position to Jenson (Button). There was nothing left with my tyres. The only chance was to escape from Kimi (Räikkönen); he had the same problem as me - we were too slow on the straights, losing a lot of time, and that made it difficult to pass. I’m happy with fifth, given the poor start, but we missed out.
“The car wasn’t finding the revs, so I’m a bit confused. I'm usually pretty quick but today I was one of the last ones (in the speed trap timings). I didn’t wake up quickly enough. I was passed by both Williams (at the start) and almost crashed into them, so I had to hit brakes. I then lost more positions, nearly losing one to a Caterham; so it was a bad situation after the first lap and it was a good strategy for that comeback.
“There was nothing more I could have done. A podium was so near yet so far. But to be fifth from 15th is important – good points.”
Heading to Bahrain, the double title winner is fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, behind team-mate Webber and 17 points off Lewis Hamilton’s lead.
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