SEPANG, Malaysia, March 24 (Reuters) - Germany’s Nico Rosberg would have stood on the Malaysian Grand Prix podium had he taken a leaf out of compatriot Sebastian Vettel’s book and ignored his team’s orders on Sunday.
Instead, the Mercedes Formula One driver finished a frustrated fourth behind Lewis Hamilton but earned his team mate’s thanks and recognition.
“I don’t feel great sitting here. I think Nico deserves to be sitting where I am now,” Hamilton told reporters at a post-race news conference for the top three.
“I guess the team thought that with the positions in the championships, it was logical to stay in the positions we were in. I have to give congratulations to Nico as he drove a smarter, more controlled race than I did today.”
Triple world champion Vettel had earlier ignored Red Bull instructions and roared past team mate Mark Webber to steal a contentious victory at steamy Sepang that left the two drivers barely speaking to each other.
Rosberg had repeatedly asked his team to tell 2008 champion Hamilton to let him through, since he was faster, but the request was denied and he accepted the need to conserve fuel and go easy on the tyres.
While the bad blood between Webber and Vettel is likely to have ramifications for Red Bull, Rosberg’s obedience was warmly received by Mercedes and he clearly appreciated the importance of banking points.
“It’s an important day for us, that’s for sure. We’ve had such a tough time in the past years. To be third and fourth, fighting the Red Bulls is such a milestone,” said the German, whose win for Mercedes in China last season was their sole success in the past three years.
”We need to put in some consistency, so to bring it home third and fourth, fully understandable.
“I know that if it had been the other way round they would have done the same thing. So that’s okay. For sure, there will be time to fight also between team mates in the future.”
Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said the decision to hold position may not have been the most popular among spectators but the team were determined to get both cars home safely.
“Obviously as a racing driver and from a sporting point of view you can question is that what the spectator wants to see or not?” the Austrian asked.
“But the team came from a very miserable second half of the season and it’s about bringing it home, scoring a solid result. And we had a problem with the fuel, so both cars were told to back off a little bit. Hearing Nico, I think he understood.” (Editing by Alan Baldwin)