Vettel defends Ferrari despite 'looking stupid' in Japan qualifying

Lewis Hamilton is poised to extend his lead after a dreadful Ferrari mix-up in Japan, but Sebastian Vettel stuck up for his team.

Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.   -  Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel defended Ferrari after a dreadful qualifying session at the Japanese Grand Prix left him "looking stupid" and set to start the race in eighth position.

Already trailing Lewis Hamilton by 50 points in the Formula One drivers' standings with only five races remaining, Vettel had a miserable session as his Mercedes rival claimed pole while he could only place ninth.

A grid penalty for Esteban Ocon means Vettel will actually start the race at Suzuka in eighth, but that remains his lowest starting position of the F1 season, with Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen making up the top three.

Anticipating further rain after Q2, Ferrari sent the German and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres for the final session, but the track had dried and the team were left scrambling to change back over to slicks. By the time they returned, the rain was back.

Vettel, who made a mistake on his sole run on dry tyres, said: "No, [not a good day for Ferrari]. The first run was OK, I had a mistake in Spoon so I lost some time there due to that but the second run we didn't make it out on time because then the rain came down."

READ | F1 Raceweek: Vettel hopes hang by a thread in Japan

"If it starts to rain five, six, seven minutes earlier we either did a miracle because we're the only clever ones and if it's like that obviously we're the only ones looking stupid. Therefore, I defend the decision, it's our decision as a team. Now it's easy to say it was the wrong decision. I was asked if I was OK with it and I said yes."

"Obviously it wasn't wet enough to start with and then the rain didn't come, it came later. It's not the position we deserve to be in, we have better speed than ninth, but [Sunday] is a new day, it's not easy when you start further back but it's not impossible."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was happy to discuss Vettel's woes, with Verstappen and fourth-placed Raikkonen looking like the only potential obstacles as his team chase a sixth victory in seven races.

"It's a really grim starting position for [Sebastian]. He has a fast car but obviously fighting with Lewis, if everything runs well it's going to be difficult for him off the start. The [Mercedes] guys just got it right, there was a lot of discussion about strategy and what tyres to use in qualifying," Wolff said.

With Hamilton's momentum continuing, Verstappen's response to being asked whether he could get involved in the Hamilton-Vettel title battle summed up the state of play. He said: "Is it even a battle anymore? I don't know!"