Lewis Hamilton has explained why he let team-mate George Russell pass him during what Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described as an “atrocious” first stint for the Silver Arrows during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton started in seventh two places ahead of Russell but lost a position to Charles Leclerc when the race was resumed after a big first-lap crash between Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon resulted in a red flag and standing restart.

As the gap between the Mercedes cars rapidly began to close, Hamilton came onto team radio to ask whether he should let Russell through, before he was instructed to do as the switch was made on lap 14.

Hamilton offering to let his team-mate through with them both on the same strategy was uncharacteristic, with the seven-time world champion having engaged in several fierce battles with Russell last season.

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Highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix from the Suzuka Circuit

“I think I picked up a bit of damage at the beginning with Charles, he came around the outside,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.

“I had huge understeer for the first stint. I couldn’t turn the car through any of the corners.

“That’s why I let George by.”

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Lewis Hamilton was left frustrated with the performance of his Mercedes after only finishing ninth at the Japanese Grand Prix

The Mercedes pair ultimately finished the race having swapped their starting positions of seventh and ninth, with both abandoning a potential one-stop strategy after switching to hard tyres during the early red-flag stoppage.

Hamilton said that Mercedes’ strategic choices weren’t responsible for their failure to advance through the field in Suzuka.

Asked if Mercedes could have done something different, he said: “Nothing, I don’t think. I don’t know what the different strategy would have been, whether it was staying on the medium to start with but we still had two really terrible hard tyres to run through, so a real challenge today.”

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Lewis Hamilton loses two grid places as he’s overtaken by Lando Norris and Sergio Perez, back to back

Mercedes’ decision to switch to the hard was influenced by the fact they had two new sets of the compound available, compared to just one of the medium, which ultimately proved to be stronger.

“The hard tyre was pretty bad,” Hamilton added. “The medium tyre was much better, so yeah, in hindsight it looks like we should have had two medium tyres. But in general, the car was pretty bad.”

Wolff: Atrocious first stint prevented podium chance

The result continued a disappointing start to the season for Mercedes, but was ultimately about what they expected after arriving in Japan off the back of a concerning showing in Australia two weeks earlier.

“We ended up where we started,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “It was just very difficult. We had a second that was super quick and we would have been racing on the podium but an atrocious first stint.

“We need to find out what it was. Was it too hot? Were we overmanaging?”

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George Russell and Oscar Piastri reflect on their brilliant battle in the final stages of the Japanese Grand Prix

Despite the result leaving fourth-placed Mercedes 107 points behind leaders Red Bull in the constructors’ standings, Wolff felt that overall progress had been made.

“I think it’s much better than it looks than the final result. And also in qualifying there’s lots we learned. It’s going to get better from here,” he added.

“We need to be quick on all circuits. There’s no excuse on temperatures or track layout. We have to sort it out.

“This is live testing for us. We have changed things massively and this is reflected in the result. The car is becoming quicker.”

Next up is the return of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19-21, which is also the first Sprint weekend of the season. You can watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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