By JOSEPH WILSON
2014-05-15 03:42 AM
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Mercedes may have taken home all the glory from the Spanish Grand Prix, but Sebastian Vettel's driving display went a long way toward repairing the four-time champion's reputation after his struggles this season.
Problems with his car's wiring and transmission plagued Vettel through practice and qualifying in Montmelo. Yet once Red Bull's mechanics provided Vettel with a reliable car, the German showed few can match his skill behind the wheel.
Vettel wove his way up from a 15th-place start to finish fourth just behind new teammate Daniel Ricciardo, livening up an otherwise dull contest until Lewis Hamilton held off Mercedes partner Nico Rosberg at the end. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described it as a "fantastic comeback drive."
And did Vettel ever need it.
After winning 13 of 19 races in 2013 to claim his fourth straight title, Vettel has only reached the podium once this season and has finished the last three races behind Ricciardo. Sunday's display of passing technique, combined with a smart team strategy and smooth pit stops, indicated that he is still a force to be reckoned with when his car holds up.
Vettel has benefited from driving cars designed by Red Bull's Adrian Newey, widely considered Formula One's best, for a team that has dominated the circuit for the previous four seasons.
While no one doubts Vettel's expertise, the question has always lingered to what degree Vettel's success has depended on being paired with Newey and a team with the financial resources to build a winning car year after year.
The 26-year-old Vettel showed his laurels are well deserved on Sunday when he used some audacious driving to steer by 11 rivals after starting way down the grid because a faulty gearbox left him stranded during qualifying and earned him a five-place penalty. Among the group of drivers Vettel managed to overtake were three former champions: Ferrari's troubled twosome of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button of McLaren.
Ricciardo was the first to acknowledge he was impressed by Vettel's drive.
"I just sort of heard on the radio that he was making progress through the field," said Ricciardo. "I definitely see it as a positive for the team, third and fourth, particularly after his starting position. All the talk about Seb, I'm sure that was going to pass very soon and he'll get to his world champion form."
Vettel also clocked the fastest lap through the race's 66 laps, the first time that has been done this year by a driver other than Hamilton or Rosberg.
Red Bull still has a long way to go to catch the pacesetters.
Ricciardo, followed by Vettel, crossed the finish line at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit a full 48 seconds after Rosberg.
Mercedes has established itself as the clear front-runner following an offseason overhaul of the rule book that featured a move to V6 turbo hybrid engines. Hamilton and Rosberg's fourth consecutive one-two finish-- in that order-- gave Mercedes a commanding lead in the constructors championship with 197 points to Red Bull's 84.
"Mercedes is very strong" said Vettel. "They have a phenomenal engine, two very good drivers, a very good car, and a very good team, they're doing a good job so it would be wrong to complain and moan about how dominant they are. They worked better than everyone else in the winter and deserve to be in that position."
The remainder of Vettel's season will depend on Red Bull continuing to make strides with his car. The RB10 suffered several stalls during the preseason tests in Jerez and an engine failure knocked Vettel out of the season-opening Australian GP.
"Hopefully, from our point of view, rather sooner than later we'll give them a hard time," said Vettel. "That's our motivation. I hope that in time we can catch up, and as I said start giving them a run for their money."