MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was generous in defeat on Sunday, congratulating Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton on securing a fifth Formula One championship and looking forward to continuing their battle next season.
The two embraced after the Briton secured the title at the Mexican Grand Prix, with the German later visiting the Mercedes engineers also to recognise the team’s achievement.
“I congratulated him, I think he drove superbly all year and was the better one of us two,” Vettel, who finished second in Mexico behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, told reporters.
“I told him well deserved and to enjoy it — number five is something incredible. Mainly I congratulated him and asked him to keep pushing for next year, I need him at his best to fight him again.”
Hamilton finished fourth in a race that Vettel had to win to have any lingering hope of denying the Mercedes driver a second successive coronation at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit.
The outcome had been almost a foregone conclusion, however, with Hamilton winning nine races to the German’s five so far and enjoying a run of success after the August break to go 70 points clear while Ferrari made mistakes.
Vettel said it had still been a “horrible moment” to realise the championship was definitively lost.
“I’ve had three times now in my life that sort of disappointment, where you realise that you can’t win the championship any more and those are not happy days,” he said.
“You reflect not on one moment but the whole year: the work that goes in, the effort that goes in from the end of the last year until now and yes, I think we had our chances. We used most of them, some we did not.
“But in the end we were not good enough.”
The season has been marked by mutual respect between the main two protagonists, however, and Hamilton responded in similar fashion.
“He came over and the one thing he said was, ‘Just don’t let off. I need you fighting with me next year’ — which I respect, naturally,” he said. “I think for me, I just said, thank you so much for being such a strong competitor this year.
“I don’t remember everything we said but ultimately it was a true showing of great sportsmanship and respect between us, as I think has been there all year long.
“It’s been a hard year. He’s fought so well this year and I know he drove fantastically well today and I know he’s going to go from strength to strength so I’ve got to stay on my toes.”
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Peter Rutherford