Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel insisted he would not take any stupid risks at the Japanese Grand Prix despite being in a virtual must-win situation this weekend.
The German trails runaway Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 50 points with just five races left this season and his Mercedes rival rubbed salt in Vettel’s wounds by dominating Friday’s free practice at Suzuka.
But Vettel, whose hopes of pipping Hamilton to a fifth world title are quickly evaporating following the Briton’s run of five victories in the last six races, refused to hit the panic button.
“Obviously you don’t want to commit suicide,” said Vettel, who has won five races to Hamilton’s eight in 2018. “If we attack we still try to be reasonable – it’s a long race.”
Vettel was more than 0.8 seconds off Hamilton’s pace in the afternoon after clocking only the fifth fastest time in the morning’s free practice.
He and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen struggled with their tyre life as the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struck a psychological blow by topping both sessions ahead of this weekend’s qualifying and race.
However, Vettel kept a lid on his emotions after a frustrating day in Japan.
“Today I think we were probably both of us sliding a bit too much, and therefore damaging the tyres a bit more than others,” said the four-time world champion.
“But overall, it has been a clean Friday – no interruptions, no issue with the car or anything,” added Vettel.
“We were able to focus on our work and now we have to try to obviously squeeze out everything that is left in the car for tomorrow.”
With Mercedes threatening another front-row lockout in qualifying, Vettel’s chances could be boosted by the weather, with an approaching typhoon expected to bring wind and rain on Saturday.
But while he needs all the luck he can get to stop Hamilton retaining his world title, Vettel refused to be drawn into any mind games before the serious business begins at the weekend.
“We know what we were doing,” he shrugged. “I don’t think we tried something different to other Fridays. We know what the car can do.
“We need to focus on that and try to get everything out to put us in the best possible position,” said Vettel, who realistically will need a fifth Japan victory on Sunday to keep his fading championship hopes alive.
“If we can grasp pole tomorrow, great. If not, we need to be there just right behind and then see what happens.”