ABU DHABI, Nov 5, 2012 (AFP) - Red Bull team chief Christian Horner heaped praise on defending world champion Sebastian Vettel on Monday in the wake of the German's dazzling drive from the back of the field to finish third in Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
As his rivals pointed to the luck that helped him race from starting in the pit lane to a remarkable podium finish that enabled him to keep hold of a 10-points lead in this year's title race, Horner described his 25-year-old driver's effort as 'phenomenal'.
Vettel battled back from a pitlane start and two collisions that damaged his front wing to finish third and lose just three points to main title rival Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus won the race with a characteristically determined drive to take full advantage of the retirement of dominant leader Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and Alonso finished second.
Horner admitted he did not expect to see such a recovery from Vettel, who had been made to start in the pit lane after being disqualified from qualifying on Saturday for lack of fuel to give a one litre sample for analysis.
He said: "I think it was one of the best [races] of his career. I think he really went for it and to go from the pitlane to the podium, it was phenomenal.
"Leaving the track on Saturday, when we were faced with starting from the pitlane, because we knew we wanted to change some things, then I really thought if we could sneak into the top 10 and score a point... That would be a great result.
"It is not that easy to overtake around here so maybe we could get an eighth or a ninth... that was the most we hoped for.
"But I went to see Seb before the race and he said, 'I will see you on thepodium'. He was absolutely convinced going into the race that he could get great result. He is just amazing!"
More extraordinary about Vettel's achievement was that in the early part of the race, it did not look possible and later he seemed to be consigned to finishing the contest on one set of soft tyres.
"We were debating it, and he was challenging us, but those tyres would have had to do 40-something laps," he said. "We could see from the first set that wear was an issue and we did not want to get to a point that he ran out of tyres.
"So as soon as he was clear of [Romain] Grosjean it made sense to pit him -- and then we felt we could chase down Alonso and Jenson Button, which he went off and tried to do."
McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh was less effusive and said that to have two Safety Cars in a race at the Yas Marina Circuit was unusual and that Vettel's performance was therefore not just down to car and driver.
"I think he was pretty fortunate with Safety Cars and the general 'demolition derby' that was going on in that race... He didn't have to overtake as many of the quicker cars as he should have -- as they were already taken out.
"I don't think anyone would have expected that many Safety Cars here, but they were pretty helpful to him and he did a great job to get through. I think he was fairly lucky this weekend one way or another."
Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali said: "He did a great race and he was pushing like as normal.
"He had moments where he was lucky or unlucky -- it depends on how you see things. It is part of the game. He had moments when you see the safety car coming at the right moment. This is something you cannot control."
Domenicali added that Vettel's eventful weekend was proof that anything can still happen in the 2012 title race in which the champion now leads Alonso by 10 points.
Two races remain -- at Austin in the United States and at Sao Paulo in Brazil later this month -- to settle the issue in this roller-coaster title race.