'Best win yet' says Vettel as he closes in on title defence

Hamilton downbeat after fourth-placed finish leaves him further behind Red Bull's German

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel said his victory in the European Grand Prix here yesterday was his best yet after he dominated the race from start to finish and increased his lead in the drivers' championship to an imposing 77 points.

The German has now won six of the eight races this season and has such an advantage that he can be sure of leading the championship to the end of August, even without earning another point. Vettel has dropped just 14 points so far this year, beaten only twice and finishing second on both of those occasions, and it would now require a dramatic change in fortunes for him not to retain his title come November. "This is the best one so far," he shouted over the team radio after he crossed the line yesterday.

"Even though we come here every year and say 'hmm, this might be tricky because this track is not made for us 100 per cent with no real fast corners'. We still managed to put everything together and we were faultless this weekend," he added.

Britain's Lewis Hamilton managed only fourth, finishing behind second-placed Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber, whose battle for the second spot on the podium was the highlight of the race. Hamilton was downbeat afterwards as Vettel now has nearly double points total, all but ruling out the title chances of the McLaren driver, despite there being 11 grands prix left in the season.

"We got a bad start – a very, very poor start – and I lost position to the Ferraris," Hamilton said. "But we weren't as fast as the Ferraris anyway so I'm not sure I could have held them off anyway. I think we've taken a step back this weekend – or maybe the others have gone forward. I think that in the next race we may really struggle again.

"To be able to finish fourth is still a good result, though. And 12 points is a decent haul after the last two races, so I can't really complain. However, in terms of performance, we weren't as quick today as we've been in the last three races.

"But I want to say a big thank you to the team for some amazing pit stops today – we've really made some positive improvements in that area and it's really appreciated," Hamilton added.

Second place for Ferrari, in front of his home crowd, was almost as good as a win for a delighted Alonso. "It was an interesting race for the fans and people on TV, to see the fight with Webber all the race through," he said. "We had an opportunity in the middle when I overtook him at Turn 12. They did a good stop and overtook us and then at final stop our team did a good strategy and we overtook him. Quite a bit of changing positions between Mark and me.

"Second place is the maximum we can have these days, so being here between the Red Bull Racing cars is a great achievement. Monaco was a good performance to finish second, Canada a good performance but we didn't score and here second is a great team result. We are definitely moving in the right direction and will get closer to them."

Even though he took the blame for letting Alonso pass him in the final pit stop, and then suffered a gearbox problem which prevented him from fighting back, Webber was also very happy with his race to third. "It was probably my best race of the year, to be honest. It was quite close with all three of us, as we were trying to manage tyres. I think we saw today was the closest I've been for a while. I'm getting better, up until the last 15 per cent, that's the way it goes. It's a fine line racing against those guys. I'm happy with my performance and I will come back better at the next race."

Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Jenson Button shared his compatriot's gloomy outlook after finishing sixth.

"After the start when I lost position and then regained position from Nico Rosberg, I don't think I saw another car all race. Overall, the pace wasn't there for us. We need some really good upgrades going forward. We need to get our heads down and come up with something – particularly aerodynamically, I think. We need to take some risks. There's a big gap behind us to the Mercedes and a big gap in front of us in terms of Ferrari and Red Bull. I do know of some new parts that are coming but we need some more. We need to take some steps forward."

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