Nico Rosberg and Williams were left ruing a missed opportunity in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the weekend, as the 'fastest' driver in the race came away with only three points to show for his efforts – albeit plenty of hope and encouragement for the future.
The young German led the way throughout free practice around the Albert Park street circuit – scene of his maiden rostrum finish in the top flight this time last year – topping all three sessions, before ultimately slipping back to fifth spot when it mattered in qualifying.
From there the inaugural GP2 Series Champion found himself rudely bundled aside in turn three on the opening lap of the grand prix, after a promising start had elevated him to third position by leapfrogging the tardy Rubens Barrichello and Robert Kubica. From there, despite impressive early speed as he fought his way back past Kimi Raikkonen and challenged Felipe Massa and Kubica in a bid to regain third, Williams' pace fell away on Bridgestone's super-soft rubber and a pit-stop delay in the end consigned Rosberg to a frustrated seventh at the chequered flag – promoted to sixth by Jarno Trulli's post-race penalty.
Fastest lap of the race – three tenths of a second quicker than that of winner Jenson Button – only went to show what might have been, as the Grove-based outfit failed to fulfil the evident potential of its Toyota-powered FW31.
“It was a challenging race and we suffered with a few glitches here and there,” Rosberg related, “firstly from my side when on lap one I left the door open at turn three and I lost some positions, and then we had a problem in my first pit-stop.
“The re-start after the first safety car on cold tyres was very difficult – I had no grip at all – and again in the last part of the race I had taken everything out of my tyres and they were dropping off, so it was impossible to keep anyone behind me.
“All said, I think three points is a good outcome because I believe we are faster than a couple of the cars who finished ahead of us, so from a championship perspective it looks okay. It was an exciting race thanks to the new rules.”
That much it certainly was, and team-mate Kazuki Nakajima provided some of that excitement – although not for entirely the right reasons. A strong start from his eleventh grid position saw the Japanese ace harrying Barrichello's Brawn GP for fifth early on, before he endured a high-speed spin just over a quarter of the way into proceedings and dumped his car into the track's unforgiving barriers, necessitating the first appearance in 2009 of the safety car.
“I had a quite a big accident on lap 17 when I ran wide at turn four and hit the kerb,” the 24-year-old explained. “That unsettled the car and then I lost the rear. It was quite a fast impact, but I had a precautionary check in the medical centre.