Although Romain Grosjean managed to surge into the lead at the start, and even briefly pull away from Red Bull duo Mark Webber and Vettel early on, Lotus accepts that it was beaten by the faster car on Sunday.
Alan Permane, Lotus' head of trackside operations, told AUTOSPORT: "I don't think there was any way we could have won it.
"But what we could have done, and we discussed it at the time, was to forget about Vettel and assume he was going to beat us anyway so go longer on that second stint.
"We may then have beaten Mark. But at the time we said, let's just try and win. Let's give it a go.
"It was a conscious decision to do that. We knew we had taken a bunch of points out of Ferrari and Mercedes.
"To gamble with second and third wasn't a huge thing for us."
When asked if, in the early stages of the race, he allowed himself to start thinking Lotus could win, team principal Eric Boullier said: "No. We were just wondering what was Red Bull's strategy and what they were doing.
"We were expecting them to cruise, which actually happened.
"When Mark stopped, even if he went for option tyres, we saw the pace and knew they were a bit faster than us.
"We tried to do our best, but we knew it would be difficult."