Sebastian Vettel says Lewis Hamilton 'better man' in F1 2017
Sebastian Vettel has accepted the best man won in F1 in 2017 but warned Ferrari will pose Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes with an even tougher challenge next year.
Vettel led the championship at the halfway stage but fell away following a series of crippling setbacks during the Asia fly-aways, enabling Hamilton to claim a fourth title with two races to spare.
"Lewis probably made fewer mistakes and the best man won in the end," said Vettel ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.
But with the final standings not necessarily offering an accurate reflection of how close the battle was between the two four-time champions and their respective teams, Vettel is confident Ferrari can take another leap forward next year.
"It was toe to toe for most of the season but not for the most important part of the season," said Vettel.
Acknowledging that catching Mercedes in 2018 will "be massively tough," Vettel admitted: "The final step is always the hardest."
Vettel has claimed five victories this season, as many as Ferrari won in the previous five seasons combined, underlining the size of the step forward the Scuderia have made this year. So can they repeat the trick this winter again?
"The team is ready and fired up," said Vettel. "We have good projects in the pipeline. Some will take time, some will be quite soon."
Speaking to Sky F1, Vettel added: "The winter gives everyone the opportunity to do everything a lot better, that's what everyone sets out to do, and we'll see who achieves that. But I'm confident we have the right people on board.
"The spirit is definitely there and already now people are completely fired up for next year. We know that we have to make that final step and that final step is the toughest one. The opposition is quick, Mercedes is very strong and Red Bull will be more in the mix from the beginning of next year."
A wary Hamilton said: "We were more consistent but Ferrari had a very, very good season. They had a fantastic car. When the pressure was on they buckled at the end."
Hopes are also high at Red Bull that they can present a bona fide challenge next term. The team have developed a reputation for being slow starters but, having already called on the team to be quick out of the blocks when 2018 testing begins in February, Daniel Ricciardo said: "I think we can get close."
Vettel and Hamilton's press conference banter
The closure of this year's title battle has, for now at least, taken the sting out of the Vettel-Hamilton rivalry.
The 'bromance' which had characterised the start of the year disintegrated in the wake of June's Azerbaijan GP, when Vettel deliberately drove into the side of Hamilton's Mercedes, and while the pair were in relaxed and friendly mood when they faced the media at the Yas Marina Circuit, their exchanges were not entirely devoid of tension.
Upon being asked to identify his favourite overtake of the season, Hamilton pleaded amnesia before Vettel leaned in to interject:
"There isn't much to remember when you don't have to pass that many people..."
"I passed you a couple of times," shot back Hamilton.
But it was a self-depreciating Vettel who drew the biggest laugh when all the drivers were asked if the sport should award more trophies.
"Personality of the year, man of the year, I'd like that," Vettel mused. "Fair play of the year…perhaps not!"