SEPANG • Nico Rosberg was amazed to have increased his World Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton yesterday after fearing his race was over at the first corner in the Malaysia Grand Prix.
Rosberg had been hit by Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari and spun 180 degrees, eventually rejoining the race in 21st place after starting second on the grid. He then roared through the field to finish third as title rival Lewis Hamilton's engine exploded when he was leading the race with 15 laps to go.
It meant that instead of Hamilton leapfrogging Rosberg at the top of the drivers' standings, the German increased his lead over his Mercedes team-mate to 23 points.
"It was a tough one," said Rosberg. "After Turn 1, I thought I was finished. I thought it was all over."
He seemed to imply that it was Vettel who had been at fault in the first-corner melee, which also involved Max Verstappen.
"I just got T-boned by a four-time world champion out of control," said Rosberg, who was delighted to finish third behind the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen. "Of course I'm happy with the comeback. To get all the way back on the podium, I definitely didn't think that was going to be possible."
Vettel will drop three places in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix as punishment for tipping Rosberg into the spin. Rosberg and Hamilton have rarely seen eye-to-eye this season, their rivalry boiling over when they crashed into each other at the Spanish Grand Prix. But Rosberg had some sympathy for Hamilton yesterday despite the angry Englishman hinting after the race that the German team were favouring Rosberg's side of the garage.
"For Lewis, I've been in his position, I know how terrible it is in that moment, so I'm sure he's totally gutted," he told reporters.
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda admitted the team had "let down" Hamilton.
"I am really upset. We should not let him down with an engine failure," Lauda told Sky Sports.