November 26, 2017 / 7:14 PM / a year ago

Vettel breaks Mercedes grip on the top two

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Sebastian Vettel broke the Mercedes stranglehold on the top two places in the Formula One championship standings on Sunday and looked forward to mounting a stronger challenge with Ferrari next season.

Formula One - F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - November 25, 2017. Ferrari's Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the third practice. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The four times world champion finished third at the year-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to finish the championship as runner-up to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and ahead of race winner Valtteri Bottas.

It was the first time since the complex V6 turbo hybrid engines were introduced in 2014, ushering in an era of Mercedes domination, that a non-Mercedes driver had ended the season in the top two.

Ferrari may have taken what Vettel called “a fair beating” under the Yas Marina floodlights but the German also saw plenty to feel proud and optimistic about as his thoughts turned toward the coming campaign.

“Not the most exciting race but I’m happy to get a last podium this year. I think it’s what the team deserves,” he said. “Now all eyes are on next year.

“I don’t think it’s a shame to come second in the fashion we did.”

Ferrari finished runners-up in the constructors’ standings by a hefty margin — with 522 points to Mercedes’ 668 — but Vettel still won five races to Hamilton’s nine after a barren 2016 season.

“We had very strong races, we won races, races that we shouldn’t have won, but here and there we missed some chances,” said the man who led the championship from the opener in Australia until the last round in Europe in September.

“Overall we had a very good run. I don’t think there was an awful lot more to grab. Certainly we had two or three races that were very costly but I think overall it’s been a strong performance.”

Vettel, whose title hopes were ended by mechanical failures and collisions in the latter part of the season, was also gracious to the winners.

“He deserves to win the championship this year, in the end,” he said of Hamilton, who wrapped up his triumph in Mexico last month with two races to spare.

“I hate to say it, he was the better man, so I’m sure we will do our bit over the winter and hopefully come back stronger.”

“Overall I think we had a good year. You have to be also fair; in the end, Mercedes was better, they were faster — look at the amount of pole positions, of race wins.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by...

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