The Scuderia cast aside their near two-year victory drought to bring a sudden end to Mercedes’ winning run at Sepang as the team beat the previously impregnable world champions on outright performance.
Having already finished third behind Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the season-opening round in Australia, Vettel’s first victory for Ferrari in just his second race has prompted suggestions that the German could be set to challenge for the title in his maiden season at Maranello.
However, while both team and driver were naturally thrilled by the “emotional” Malaysian result, Vettel has cautioned against thoughts that Ferrari can now aim to immediately usurp Mercedes at the front of the field.
“We are realistic about where we are and what we want to achieve. The targets haven’t changed,” Vettel said in the Drivers??? Press Conference ahead of this weekend’s Chinese GP.
“Usually you need a couple of races [more] to really understand where you are. We have a decent understanding but the target is to confirm the fact that we were very close to the top cars in Australia, fighting with Williams for the podium, and in Sepang two weeks ago we were close enough to win and that was a great success.
“But in general we want to make sure that we want to establish [ourselves] as the team right behind Mercedes. That means we stay ahead of strong teams like Williams and Red Bull not just for one or two races but ideally for the whole season. Once we have confirmed that, the target is to ensure that the gap gets closer with Mercedes.”
While the early-season form of the SF15-T means that new team boss Maurizio Arrivabene’s stated 2015 target of two race victories could be easily achieved, Vettel acknowledged that their form may still fluctuate.
After Sepang baked in sweltering conditions, the Chinese weekend is set to be a significantly chillier affair – conditions which should suit Mercedes after they were undone by tyre wear at Sepang.
“It [Ferrari???s pace] was for real two weeks ago – I don???t think Mercedes backed off! It???s was nice to see we were so competitive but there were also a couple of circumstances coming together,” Vettel said.
“But it???s most important we managed to capitalise and get a very good result and win the race. For here and the next races in general the start of the season things can be up and down and we want to make sure there???s quite a lot of ups and not so many downs, but it???s normal that at some races you are more competitive than others.
“We managed to do a very good in Malaysia but for here and the next races we have to be realistic about what we want to achieve.”
Should Ferrari nonetheless again have the pace to challenge Mercedes for victory this weekend, Vettel will have a chance of equalling the legendary Ayrton Senna???s tally of 41 grand prix wins.
“I wasn???t aware. I know Michael [Schumacher]???s number , but that???s ridiculous to be honest. It???s very special,??? he said of moving within one win of Senna.
“It took me quite a while to get the number 40 done – I hope that the next one is not that far away!
“But it would certainly mean a lot for any driver. That???s why statistics in this regard are quite nice. Once you are on the track it doesn???t really matter so much. Nowadays it???s probably not entirely fair to the guys in the past because we have more races.”
Despite Vettel already rewriting a number of F1 records en-route to winning four consecutive world championships in 2010-2013, Bernie Ecclestone recently suggested that reigning title winner Hamilton was ???has been the best world champion we???ve had??? in terms of the way the Briton helps promote the sport.
When Ecclestone???s implied criticisms of him were put to Vettel, however, the German, a friend of the F1 supremo, simply replied: “He???s free to say what he wants – so it???s fine. I???m very happy with what I???ve achieved so far and what might be coming. That???s it.”
Put to him by Jenson Button that it might be because he is not on Twitter, Vettel joked: “Is Bernie on Twitter then? I wonder how he knows!”