Sebastian Vettel described his season as “satisfying” after finishing the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday in third place.
The Ferrari driver, a four-time world champion with Red Bull Racing, came home 19 seconds behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas at Yas Marina Circuit, with the Finn winning the final race of 2017 after he began on pole.
Starting in the second row and third on the grid, Vettel could never get close to either Bottas or teammate Lewis Hamilton, admitting afterwards that, much like the second half of the season, he struggled to keep up with his chief rivals.
Standing third on the podium in Abu Dhabi, Vettel said: “I tried very hard. I had a good start, but had nowhere to go. After three, four or five laps I couldn't go any faster and from then it was pretty lonely. In the second part of the race we had a stronger pace, but not good enough."
Having won three of the first six races this season, Vettel led the championship by 14 points going into the mid-summer break. However, mistakes on his part and the unreliability of his Ferrari hamstrung his quest for a fifth world title, leaving Hamilton to pip him to the drivers' crown with two races to spare.
"Lewis deserves to win the championship this year," Vettel said. "I hate to say it, but he was the better man."
Vettel will hope 2018 will usher in a shift in power. Having finished first in five of the 20 races this year – Mercedes were victorious in 12 - the German helped Ferrari register as many wins as they had in the five previous seasons combined.
The Italian marque came home a distant second in the constructors’ standings, but they can still go into winter testing with reason for real optimism. Understandably, Vettel called for another strong push from his team.
“We had a strong year overall,” he said. “Obviously we didn’t win, either the drivers’ or the constructors’. We can’t be happy with that - it’s what we changed the set-up to achieve.
“Overall we were not quick enough, it’s as simple as that. In the end, you can break it down to a lot of details and this and that. But overall the package wasn’t good enough. Yet the positives outweigh the disappointments we had here and there over the year.”
Vettel was right to point to the progression made, although he warned there remains much to do to arrive in March at the opening race of next season as a genuine challenger to Mercedes.
“We mustn’t forget where we were 12 months ago and the incredible achievement that’s come together over winter and the set-up this year and throughout the season to keep improving the car,” he said.
“A lot of work, but we saw today we got a fair beating and couldn’t touch them in qualification and in the race. There’s lots for us to do to do better.”