Vettel had been running third heading into the Grand Prix’s closing stages, but lost out on the final podium spot at Suzuka after Mercedes utilised the undercut to get Lewis Hamilton ahead. Though Vettel was on softer tyres, the world champion was able to resist his pressure and gradually pull clear.
"It's easy to analyse now and say what we could have done and when, but in the moment I think it was the right decision,” said Vettel to suggestions that Ferrari had erred in leaving him out.
The German's strategy contrasted with that of team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who pitted eight laps earlier, stayed on the hard tyres, and in doing so managed to undercut Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo to seal fifth.
"I was pushing for it as well as the team,” added Vettel of his own strategy call. “It's very easy to now be an expert and criticise, but in the moment we had to try - that was our chance to get P2.
"It didn't work; that's a pity because the speed was there. Equally if we put the cars on the second row and stayed there, we would have a better race as well. But 'could, would, should' doesn't matter."
Vettel had lamented the impact of traffic during his race, complaining several times over team radio about his perceived lack of blue flags, but also refused to blame that for not being able to keep Hamilton behind.
"I don't think backmarkers made the difference," he said. "For sure I was unlucky with the timing - I think I lost four seconds in the fight with Lewis [through traffic]. But looking at the final gap, it didn't really matter.
"That's how it goes sometimes. What's important is that there were plenty of positives..."
Vettel's fourth place finish represented the first time in eight years that he has not made the podium at Suzuka. It also means he falls to sixth in the drivers' championship, tied on points with Red Bull's Max Verstappen.