MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel congratulated Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton on joining him as a four times Formula One world champion on Sunday and vowed that next season would be different.
“I‘m down, obviously,” said the German, who won his titles with Red Bull, after his already extremely slim hopes were finally extinguished at the Mexican Grand Prix.
“It’s tough to cross the line and realize that you’re not in the fight anymore. That sums it up ... It’s Lewis’s day. He was crowned world champion and he deserves that,” he told television reporters in the post-race pen.
“Overall he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that.”
Vettel and Hamilton collided on the opening lap, with both going to the back of the field after pitstops to repair the damage.
The Ferrari driver, who needed to be in the top two to have a chance and had started on pole position, ended up fourth while Hamilton pulled himself back from last to ninth.
That gave the Briton an unassailable 56 points lead with two races remaining.
“Right now, it’s disappointing. Next year will be a different story, as we all start again, but right now, in these moments, you need to give credit to the best man and that is him this year,” said Vettel.
Vettel had started the season with a win in Australia and led the championship until the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.
But Hamilton had returned from the August break with a vengeance and won five of the next six races while Vettel’s challenge imploded with two retirements -- one of them caused by a faulty spark plug.
The German and Hamilton had been enjoying the battle, a change from years of Mercedes domination and the title fought between team mates, and showed strong mutual respect.
“I don’t fear him. I like racing with him. I would have liked a little bit more of that this year,” said Vettel. “But overall, they were just the better bunch.”
“He’s done a superb job all year round and deserves to win the title. So congratulations to him.”
Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene also congratulated Hamilton but said the race had not reflected the true potential of his team’s car.
“Right to the very end, the team fought for the chance of winning this world championship,” he said.
“We will now continue to do our very best in the two remaining Grands Prix, tackling them with the same level of concentration and determination.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ian Ransom