MONACO (AFP) - Given his luck, Nico Rosberg should be excused if he headed to the Principality's casino Sunday night after one of Formula One's greatest tactical errors handed him a memorable and rare hat-trick of wins at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Trailing his Mercedes team-mate and world champion Lewis Hamilton with 15 laps remaining, the 29-year-old German took full advantage when an accident prompted a Safety Car intervention that, in turn, led the team to call the Briton in for an unexpected and unnecessary pit-stop.
Hamilton re-joined third, on new softer tyres, but was unable to use that performance advantage to pass second-placed Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, let alone Rosberg who won by 4.4 seconds.
It was, for Rosberg, the first time he had won two successive races and that feat not only breathed new life into his title challenge, cutting Hamilton's lead to 10 points, but also added his name to the three others - Briton Graham Hill, Frenchman Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna - to have won this classic 78-laps race three times in a row.
Rosberg roared wildly as he won, knowing what victory would mean to him and what defeat could do to dent Hamilton's confidence.
"I'm very, very happy, of course, but I know also it was a lot of luck today," he admitted. "Lewis drove brilliantly and he would have also deserved the win for sure, but that's the way it is in racing and definitely I am extremely happy and going to make the most of it."
Asked about the championship position, he said: "I know, yeah, but at the same time, I know that I got lucky today. I'll enjoy the moment now, but I need to work hard because Lewis was a little bit stronger this weekend. I need to work hard for the next race for sure." He said he was in the dark as to why Hamilton was called in for new tyres, but not him.
"I have no idea, sorry!" he said. "As always, we're in the car and it's very difficult to judge what decisions are being made and stuff like that.
"Of course, it was extremely difficult to do the restart with those hard tyres being very cold, but it worked out and I'm ecstatic."
Until the Safety Car, after Dutch teenager Max Verstappen had collided with Frenchman Romain Grosjean's Lotus and then crashed his Toro Rosso at Ste Devote, it had been Hamilton's race.
He ended up settling for a disappointed third ahead of the two Red Bulls of Russian Daniil Kvyat and Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth for Ferrari ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India and Jenson Button, who claimed the struggling McLaren Honda team's first points of the year in eighth place.
"We didn't expect that so it's a good result and I am very proud of the team," said Button. "We need a win, but this is a great stepping stone for the future. When you score points, people take notice."
Brazilian Felipe Nasr came home ninth for Sauber and remarkably, after starting from the pit lane, Spaniard Carlos Sainz finished 10th to score a point in the second Toro Rosso car.
It was some compensation to the team after a weekend of dazzling driving from both of their young rookies.
Hamilton remains leader of the drivers' championship with 126 points, a lead of 10 points ahead of Rosberg on 116. Had he won, he would have increased his lead to 27 points.