Nico Rosberg fears that his 24-point F1 world championship advantage over Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton will be under threat in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix after he picked up a penalty between final practice and qualifying at the Red Bull Ring.
Although he qualified second to his world champion team-mate, Rosberg will drop to sixth on the grid on Sunday after the Mercedes team anticipated that an accident in the morning session could have damaged the gearbox on his W07 and performed a precautionary change while they rebuilt the car at both ends.
Rosberg had yet to set a competitive lap when he lost control of the Mercedes on the exit of turn two, although replays later showed the car's left-rear suspension buckling and pitching itself off the road and into the barriers on the left of the circuit.
The repair work took the team the entire break before sessions, with team boss Toto Wolff confirming that, with three minutes to the green light, there was still some way to go before the car could be called roadworthy. Despite that, Rosberg wasted little time in vaulting to the head of the times, although he eventually had to give best to Hamilton in a wet-dry final phase.
“First of all, it was a really unbelievable job from everybody - even Lewis' mechanics came on to my car to try to get it out in time, so that was a huge team effort,” the German noted, “We got it out with eleven minutes to go in Q1, so it was really tight.
“After that, it was a very exciting qualifying, going dry-wet-dry and it was unbelievable how quickly it dried in the end then to get back on to slick tyres.”
With Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel taking his penalty first when the grid is drawn up, the two Germans could end up close together at the start, while Hamilton shares the front row with Force India's Nico Hulkenberg – if the German survives a stewards' enquiry into his speed under yellow flags in Q2 – with Jenson Button's McLaren in P3.
Starting, potentially, six places behind his team-mate, and with both Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo between them, Rosberg admits that his morning off could still be a problem for his points lead.
“I think Lewis just did a good job there in the very end, so that's it,” he shrugged, “Second not first, but it's okay. The five places will be quite costly… well, very costly of course for tomorrow, unfortunately. I'll make the best of it anyway, and try to get a good race from there.
“Tyres are going to be really tough tomorrow because we just don't know. Temperatures can go up so much so who knows how the tyres are going to be. In the hot, it was really tough so maybe, in the cold, it will better, but we don't know.”