After being deemed guilty of ignoring double-waved yellow flags in qualifying that saw him handed a five-place grid drop, the four-time F1 champion was also punished with a 10-second time penalty for running into the back of Alpine's Esteban Ocon in the race.
Far from the fresh start to his career Vettel had been hoping for, the weekend was akin to his darker days at Ferrari and which hastened his exit from the Scuderia.
Suggested to Szafnauer he was already battling against people's perceptions, he replied: "It's very, very early to say that.
"We only have one data point, one race. Yeah, it wasn't the best race but if you look at the positives, he had to start last, he was running in the top 10 for a while, [and he] felt good in the car.
"Just from watching him from the pit wall, looking at his lap times - and his lap times were not that dissimilar to Lance [Stroll] who has been driving here for a while, knows us well, knows the car well.
"He ended up finishing in a relatively decent position [10th] and at times was pretty competitive on the medium and the soft [tyres], so was Seb.
"I've got to talk to him. It's way too early to say that."
Vettel also suffered a miserable pre-season that was hit with reliability issues and culminated in him completing the fewest number of laps of the full-time F1 drivers.
Szafnauer is adamant Vettel "is getting there" given the differences he has been forced to overcome between the Aston Martin and the Ferrari he had become accustomed to.
"The car he is driving now is totally different from what he drove before, from car characteristics, powertrain characteristics, a lot of things," added Szafnauer.
"He was getting to grips to know it and make set-up changes to suit him in qualifying when he had the yellow flags.
"It's really early days. He didn't do a lot of laps in testing, we only had three days and he had to share those days with Lance, and he seemed to have all the problems.
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