Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says the decision to swap Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas during Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix was "extremely difficult" to take, but praised both drivers for their sportsmanship.

Bottas allowed Hamilton to pass midway through the race at the Hungaroring in order to challenge the Ferrari drivers ahead and try to claim victory for Mercedes.

Hamilton agreed that if he did not pass the Ferrari drivers he would give Bottas third place back, honouring the deal on the line despite facing pressure from the closing Max Verstappen.

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"Lewis' pace seemed to be quicker," Wolff explained. "We weren't quite sure if Valtteri was managing the gap to the Ferrari because the moment you close, you just destroy your tyres and it's very difficult. So he stayed away. Lewis said 'I can go much quicker, give me a shot and I'll let him by'.

"Then we had a long discussion internally about how we would make the move, because Verstappen was coming much closer, and we didn't want to lose the podium and P4 under any circumstances.

"So we advised him about the gap and discussed where the right place would be and decided it would be last lap into the last corner, because that would limit the overtaking opportunities for Verstappen. So he backed up and there wasn't any discussion.

"It was very sportsmanlike behaviour, similar to what Valtteri did before, and certainly a very difficult call for the team, extremely difficult for the team, and difficult for him."

The position change caused Hamilton to lose another three points in the drivers' championship race against Sebastian Vettel, who moved into a 14-point lead with victory in Hungary.

While the decision to change position at the flag may have worked against Hamilton's title bid, Wolff defended the approach, believing it to be more successful in the long-term.

"These values made us win six championships, and is going to make us win more championships in the years to come. It cost us three points and it can potentially cost us the championship," Wolff said.

"We are perfectly conscious of all of that. This is how the drivers and the team operates. We stick to what we say, and if the consequences are as much as losing the championship, we take it.

"But long term, we will be winning much more races and much more championship with that approach than doing it the other way around."