Singapore Grand Prix runner-up Nico Rosberg has admitted that he thought his chances of a strong result had been ended during the first safety car period, when he was forced to refuel against the regulations.
The Williams driver had made a good start from his ninth place on the grid, using the supersoft Bridgestone tyres to make early ground, when the safety car came out to cover the recovery of Nelson Piquet Jr's smashed Renault. Unfortunately for the German, the pace car period coincided with his first fuel stop and, despite trying to stretch his load as far as possible, he eventually had no option but to pull into a 'closed' pit-lane.
Not for the first time in his brief F1 career, Rosberg thus fell foul of the current rules that require the field to pack up behind the safety car before being allowed to pit, earning himself a ten-second stop-go penalty that threatened to undo all his earlier work.
"At the time that the team said I had to have a penalty - which I thought was going to come anyway - I thought it was all over again," the inaugural GP2 Series champion admitted, "When I saw the safety car coming out on just the lap where I had to pit, I was thinking 'this is not possible, it is every single time exactly the same thing!'. The crew had already told me come in [that] lap, and then the safety car comes out. I was really annoyed and thought that was it, that was the end of it."
Pitting while the rest of the field trailed around the safety car, however, allowed Rosberg to cycle through to the front of the pack when the pit-lane finally opened, and he assumed control of the race at the restart, ahead of the one-stopping Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella, and Robert Kubica, who had likewise been caught out by the timing of the safety car intervention.
While Kubica struggled to rediscover his earlier pace, however, Rosberg streaked away from the pack, which was being delayed behind the heavier cars of Trulli and Fisichella, opening out an advantage that would ultimately allow him to rejoin in a healthy points position behind only Fernando Alonso when the various strategies had cycled through.
"Although I was P1, I was trying to go as hard as I could," the German said of the lap 20 restart, "I was enjoying it while I was out front, but I still thought it was all over because I had to come in.
"It's a very, very nice view to have P1 on the pit board, but I was just pushing as hard as I could, as I had nobody behind me. I was thinking 'this is looking great' and just pushing as hard as I could because I knew that I had to stop, so I had to try and get the gap as big as possible.
"I dropped to sixth, and then [the team] said that the guys in front still needed to stop, so it was looking great again. It was me racing Fernando, and I thought I might have a chance against him. The car felt pretty good and we were definitely quite strong on this track, which is really pleasing. Everything went our way for once, which is fantastic for me and for the whole team, but Fernando was just a bit too quick today."