SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel cut a resigned figure after Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix while defending an ill-fated overtaking attempt on Max Verstappen that cost him heavily in the championship battle with Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel started eighth after a failed tyre gamble in qualifying, dropped to 19th after the collision with Red Bull’s Verstappen and then fought back to sixth.
The German is now 67 points behind Mercedes’ winner Hamilton, who can clinch his fifth Formula One title at the next race in the United States with three rounds to spare.
“Don’t get me wrong or arrogant, for me the gap was there,” Vettel told reporters at the Suzuka circuit when asked if he would attempt the pass again if given another chance.
“Knowing that obviously he closes and we don’t make the corner, then, no, you don’t do it again. But I don’t think there was anything wrong with trying.”
Vettel was trying to pass the Red Bull driver for third place at the fast left-handed sweep into Spoon corner when the two cars collided, with Vettel spinning around.
“In that corner you can’t overtake,” said Verstappen, who finished third. “I even gave him space, but he understeered into my car.”
Stewards reviewed the incident and decided to take no further action.
Vettel’s misfortune eased Hamilton’s path towards what now looks like an inevitable fifth title, with the Briton taking his sixth win in seven races and ninth of the season.
When asked whether it would have been better to stay patient, with Verstappen already carrying a five-second penalty that would have given Vettel the position anyway, the German responded:
“What do you think, how many times you can afford to wait?
“I am racing not just him, I’m racing also the guys in front ideally,” he said referring to Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
“I was obviously pushing to get past but I wasn’t desperate to get past,” he said.
Vettel said he had tried to avoid contact, pointing to the overtaking moves he made on other drivers at the same corner during his recovery charge, but Verstappen left nowhere to go.
Verstappen had been handed his penalty for earlier forcing Vettel’s team mate Kimi Raikkonen off the track.
If the championship looks as good as over, Vettel refused to give up all hope until mathematically forced to.
“You say nearly (done), so obviously there is still a chance,” he said.
“But it doesn’t help when we finish sixth and they win the race.”
Reporting by Abhishek Takle, editing by Alan Baldwin, Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar