Sebastian Vettel says race winner Mercedes took Ferrari by surprise with its strategy choice following the mid-race red flag in the 2016 Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Vettel led the race from the start after beating Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg into Turn 1, but the battle at the front was thrown wide open after the race was red flagged shortly after the first round of pitstops when Fernando Alonso suffered a huge crash at Turn 3 after colliding with Esteban Gutierrez.
With teams free to make changes to their cars, Mercedes switched Rosberg onto the hardest available tyre compound of medium in an attempt to get to the end of the race, while Hamilton was already on the same tyre after trying a different strategy to make up for ground he had lost at the start.
That allowed both Mercedes drivers to get to the end without making another stop once racing resumed, while Vettel had to settle for third after taking the restart on super-softs and pitting again for softs late on.
"It is better when you are at the front, you can control the pace," said Vettel of his opening stint.
"That was a pleasant surprise. Then the red flag you can argue didn't help us.
"We had a chance, we didn't expect [Mercedes] to both go on the mediums and go to the end.
"We tried to go more aggressive. Maybe it didn't work.
"Ultimately I'm very happy with third. I tried everything and hope it works next time."
Rosberg added: "The strategy was crucial today. It was tyre choice on the red flag.
"I was glad to see [Ferrari] on the super-soft. I was happy I could follow quite well [until Vettel would have to pit]."
Vettel was also buoyed by the fact he was able to fight with Mercedes after the reigning champion team looked dominant in qualifying trim on Saturday.
"We were a lot closer, and this is one of our worst tracks so there are a lot of positives," he said, having chased Hamilton for second until going off at the penultimate corner a couple of laps from the end.
"Arguably the red flag didn't help, but sometimes it works in your favour and other times it catches you out.
"Maybe in hindsight we could have done something else [with tyre strategy] but I'm not willing to blame anyone.
"There are plenty of positives. We know we can up our game and we want to put pressure on these guys."