Nico Rosberg says he thought he had a chance to take the lead of the race at Turn 1, after his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton locked his brakes into the corner.
Both drivers enjoyed clean starts at the beginning of the race with Hamilton shifting over to the inside of the track to defend his line into Turn 1. However, the Briton braked too late and locked his right-front brake, sending him off the circuit where he cut through the grass and continued the race with his lead.
“I was excited at that point in time because I thought I’d got him,” Rosberg said after the race.
“That was some pretty late braking there, but then he floored it through the grass and that’s that. Then again, that’s not for me to judge.”
As Hamilton was dealing with his lock up and re-joining the track, Rosberg found himself in a tangle of his own at Turn 1 as Max Verstappen also braked late and locked up, making contact with Rosberg and edging him off the track.
“He [Verstappen] went over the limit, he locked up the front tyre, ran wide and shoved me off the track because it was a pretty big impact. It doesn’t look that big on TV, but feeling-wise it was a massive impact and I thought OK, my car is done, and my steering had a bit of an offset after that. Penalty or not it’s not for me to judge, it’s for them up there and I accept that.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff also weighed into the debate, moving the spotlight away from Hamilton’s incident at Turn 1 and moved it onto Verstappen.
“I think the big difference is it was a lap 1 incident, and on the other side you could also say that Max could have got a penalty for banging wheels with the championship leader into Turn 1 and pushing him off the track,” Wolff said.
“I think maybe the penalty he got at the end was a consequence of all the driving and as refreshing as it is, and how ruthless the great ones are – and this is just my opinion and I won’t comment on the other one – if you race the championship leader three races down to the end wheel banging is not what should happen.”
During his first stint on the soft compound tyre, Rosberg began to slip off his team-mate’s pace by half a second and even stayed out three laps longer than Hamilton who pitted on lap 17. The German made his pit stop at the end of lap 20 for the same medium tyre and then began to match his team-mate’s pace, although the damage had been done as he was five-seconds adrift Hamilton in third.
“What we’re doing is managing the tyres to do the best possible race, I knew the stint was going to be very long, and at the end of the stint I was doing some really good times which meant I should stay out longer, so that’s what I was doing, managing my stint lengths, it has nothing to do pure performance at that point in time,” Rosberg said.
Image via Mercedes AMG F1 Petronas