Sebastian Vettel earned his first podium place of 2019 on Sunday but was hardly jubilant, saying he was not “entirely happy” in his Ferrari and annoyed by questions about team orders.
The four-time world champion took third behind the Mercedes pair of Valtteri Bottas and winner Lewis Hamilton at the Chinese Grand Prix, the 1,000th race in Formula One.
The German was overtaken by his decade-younger team-mate Charles Leclerc at the start, but Ferrari soon told the Monegasque to let Vettel pass.
In the lead-up to the race, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that Vettel remained the priority, but suggested that could change.
The 21-year-old Leclerc subsequently came fifth in Shanghai and said that the order was “a bit frustrating”.
“But I just accepted it, did it and focused on my race,” said Leclerc, whose truncated responses suggested the frustration lingered.
The 31-year-old Vettel, who has faced criticism after a number of unforced errors going back to last season, was less diplomatic.
“It’s always a bit difficult, especially with what you make of the answer afterwards,” he told reporters, hitting out at “poor journalism” over the prickly topic of who is number one at Ferrari.
“It’s a pain to answer the same questions over and over,” he said, adding that it was “never pleasant” when one driver is told to make way for a team-mate.
“It’s not easy for anyone involved,” he said.
Vettel admitted that he was still trying to “unlock” his Ferrari and conceded that he was not “entirely happy yet” with it.
The Italian team were supposed to have the edge this season over perennial constructors’ champions Mercedes, but Mercedes have been first and second in all three races.
“These couple of weeks and these next couple will be very important for us to understand where we need to go in the next months,” said Vettel.
“Clearly today we were not as fast as Mercedes.”