SEPANG, Malaysia, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Third place in the Malaysian Grand Prix was not what Nico Rosberg was hoping to savour, but it must have tasted sweeter than the champagne he drank out of Daniel Ricciardo's boot as the German inched closer to his maiden Formula One title.
Rosberg went into Sunday's race with an eight-point advantage over Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the overall standings.
He looked set to leave with a five-point deficit and a fourth-placed finish after being spun around and dropped to the back of the field by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel at the start.
Instead, Rosberg came away with a podium and a lead of 23 points over Hamilton after the Briton's hopes of a 50th career win literary went up in smoke, as well as fire, 16 laps from the end.
"Well, it doesn't feel like a win because it's only third place and today was a tough day," said Rosberg on the podium after sharing in race-winner Ricciardo's now trademark 'shoey' podium celebrations and playfully pulling a sour face.
"Of course I'm happy with the comeback...I definitely didn't think that was going to be possible."
Rosberg surged to a 43-point lead over Hamilton early in the season until a lacklustre middle part of the campaign allowed the Briton to overturn it and head into into the August summer break with a 19-point advantage.
Rosberg, who won the opening four races this year, has been the man in form since racing resumed, igniting a fresh streak of three successive victories.
A fourth-straight win on Sunday appeared unlikely, however, even before his spin, with Hamilton back in the groove and Rosberg acknowledged the helping hand luck had given him.
"Listen, I'm doing my race and I'm fighting my way from last and I want to get as high as possible," the German, who also escaped unscathed after brushing bodywork with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and hung on to third despite a 10-second time penalty for it.
"Now, of course it's a good thing for me that I've got more points and that's it. There's no hiding that fact."
Rosberg will continue to hold the points advantage over Hamilton even if he finishes second to the Briton in three of the remaining five races.
Hobbled by reliability problems while fighting for the title in 2014, the 31-year-old is still taking it race by race.
"I'm not going to start thinking like that," he said.
"I want to win the races, that's it." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)