Sebastian Vettel said the key to keeping Max Verstappen at bay during the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday was understanding the Red Bull driver’s mindset around overtaking.
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Vettel and Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel shortly after their first pit stop, with Verstappen lunging from a long way back to attempt to out-brake the Ferrari at the hairpin at the end of the circuit. Verstappen ran deep and Vettel was able to switch back to the inside on the exit, getting back alongside the Dutchman and holding firm on the approach to the final corner to keep third position.
Because Vettel knew Verstappen would try a move as soon as he had a sniff at overtaking, the four-time world champion felt he was able to force him into an unnatural line through the corner.
“I saw him coming and the speed delta at the end of the straights is quite big now,” said Vettel.”Knowing Max as well as I do I knew that he will try. I was sort of predicting that he will try and go down the inside and I tried to cut back, and it worked. I had a bit of a moment, I had to open the car a bit, but it was good.
“I could nearly get a car length ahead of him and the angle into the last corner for him wasn’t very sexy. It was good fun but we would have loved to be a bit faster.”
It turned out to be an important moment in the fight for third position, as Verstappen never came close enough to attempt another overtake for the rest of the grand prix. It briefly looked like the pair could come to blows during the move, with Verstappen forced to put two wheels on the grass as Vettel squeezed him on exit.
Verstappen, who has forged a reputation for hard-nosed racing since his F1 debut in 2015, had no problem with Vettel’s aggressive defence.
“I tried under braking because his tyres were still a bit cold. Then on the exit he made it quite close, but I would’ve done the same, so it was all right.”
It was a brave move from Verstappen given the events of the last Chinese Grand Prix at the same corner with the same driver. On that occasion, Verstappen tried a clumsy move on the inside of Vettel and hit the Ferrari driver, pitching both men into a spin.