Sebastian Vettel said he felt he could have won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix if Mercedes had not used Valtteri Bottas to ‘block’ him and help Lewis Hamilton to victory.

The series leader and four-time champion German was still smiling, but clearly frustrated, after the race despite praise being poured on him for a classic passing move on Finn Bottas during the race.

“I am not happy because the win was there,” said Vettel. “Lewis had the luxury to stay out and choose a different tyre and, with Valtteri, I was catching him and I knew they wouldn’t pit him. He was all over the place with the tyres so they used him to block me.”

The Ferrari driver finally found a way past Bottas with a double dummy move at high speed on the straight as they approached Turn One.

“Somehow he managed to get a decent exit from the chicane, so I couldn’t do it first time,” explained Vettel. “But second time I thought I had to find a way even if it was on the grass.

“It was really close! I faked it on the inside. Then, I went back on the outside and then inside again, but I nearly lost the car, as I had DRS open, but it worked. I looked down and I had lost an awful lot of time.”

Vettel then became engaged in a tense and thrilling battle with Hamilton for victory, losing the lead after their final pit stops when the Englishman, on soft tyres, found the speed to roar by the Ferrari, on mediums.

“I thought it would be more difficult for him, but then I had no tow and he sailed past,” said Vettel. “He managed a really good exit and he was really quick in the last sector and managed to win the race.

“Well done to him. He won it fair and square and you can’t take it away from him.”

Hamilton, who was breathless with the effort he made, was equally thrilled by their duel, including one flashpoint when the paid made contact at Turn One after Vettel’s second pit stop.

“It was just the rawest fight I can remember having for some time, which I loved,” said Hamilton. “This is what the sport needs to be every single race and this is why I race – what got me into racing.

“To have those close battles with him, a four-time champion, is awesome.”

During a post-race news conference, the pair disagreed with a smile on interpretations of their clash.

“It was very close into Turn One,” said Hamilton. “I gave you space, otherwise, we would have touched. It was close. It was cool.”

“I gave you the space,” said Vettel, not giving up in the argument.

Hamilton added praise for his Mercedes team.

“They did a great job with the strategy,” he said. “And I feel for Valtteri. It was a team effort today. These guys – Ferrari – have done a phenomenal job and they have great pace. It is very close now between us.”