Sebastian Vettel has admitted that he was careful in the closing laps of the Abu Dhabi finale to not ruin the battle for the 2016 world championship.
However, the Ferrari driver denied that he deliberately did not overtake Nico Rosberg in order to support his German countryman, as Lewis Hamilton did his controversial 'backing up' manoeuvre from the lead.
"Nico was a little too fast for me on the straight," he told Auto Motor und Sport.
"Turn 11 was the best place but Nico did well to defend."
Some, however, suspect that the moves Vettel did try were half-hearted.
Vettel explained: "Nico was so close behind Lewis that I could not take full risk, because I could have cleaned [Hamilton] up as well. I did not want to risk a stupid manoeuvre."
However, the quadruple world champion has also been quoted as admitting he did not fully agree with Hamilton's backing up tactics.
"I would not have wanted to be in Nico's shoes," said Vettel. "Everyone knew that Lewis was up to. He was as slow as a bus, and wanted to drive Nico into us.
"I wanted to win the race for Ferrari, but I also knew that Lewis and Nico were racing for the title."
Vettel therefore said that Rosberg is a fully deserving world champion, dismissing Hamilton's hints that only better car reliability got him over the line.
"In my view, you can never be champion just with luck," Vettel told Bild.
"Sometimes you have luck, sometimes you are not so lucky, but I think that has happened to other drivers in the past.
"Nico collected the most points over the year, he was very consistent, and I think you should never doubt whether someone has earned the title or not. Over 21 races, the result speaks for itself."
Rosberg's defence of the title is set to start on March 26, 2017 with the Australian Grand Prix.