Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas could only qualify fourth and seventh respectively amid a frantic end to qualifying in Sochi as track conditions drastically improved in the final five minutes of Q3.

Mercedes looked well-placed to secure a front-row lock out in Russia having boasted a pace advantage over its rivals on the intermediate tyres, but when the track began to dry out, George Russell led a stampede into the pits to switch onto slicks.

Mercedes had already prioritised track position by sending its drivers out first for the opening runs of Q3 and initially decided to keep both Hamilton and Bottas circulating on intermediates while others gambled on slicks.

When Mercedes’ drivers were instructed to abort their runs and pit for soft rubber, they were already in a race against time to be able to complete more than a single lap.

It was on Hamilton’s return to the pits when he made what he described as an “embarrassing” error as he slid into the pit wall and broke his front wing. The delay cost him significant time in the pits and he went on to spin off into the barriers on his sole lap on slicks.

But Wolff insisted that the damage had already been done and that Hamilton would not have had time to get in a second lap even if he had avoided his crash at pit-entry.

“By going out early in the session, we had our track position, and I think that was the right decision to take,” Wolff said.

“And the consequence of not being able to put in another lap on the soft was the timings that started at the beginning of the session. Why [was] that? I think we were simply out of position to do two laps on the soft whilst not gambling and taking a certain risk.

“We could have pitted one lap earlier and basically aborted the final fastest lap on the intermediate and followed George Russell and the others into the pits, but that would have been much too risky.

“So we stayed one more lap out and we missed the opportunity of banking in a second lap on the soft which would have probably been enough to be on the front row. You can see everybody who is there had a second lap - that is the one that counted.

“Lewis losing his front wing didn’t have any effect on the end result because it would have been anyway out of sequence,” he added. “It would have been even worse because we would have crossed the line earlier.

“So just a sequence of events that were unfortunate. In a way, when things go wrong, they go wrong a few times in a row and that seems to happen to us. Having said that, we will break the pattern now.”

Although Bottas inferred that Hamilton’s issue had prevented him from completing a second flying lap on the soft tyre, in reality, he would have fallen short of making the chequered flag in sufficient time anyway.

Curiously, Hamilton had been going faster on his additional intermediate lap before eventually aborting it to box for slicks.

Mercedes’ data pointed to Hamilton’s overall lap time gain totalling half a second, which would not have been enough to challenge the slick-shod runners for the front-row with shock pole sitter Lando Norris managing a time over two seconds faster than Hamilton in the end.

“We aborted that lap because we knew that particular lap would have been five-tenths quicker but probably not enough to out-perform the soft runners,” Wolff explained.

“So in hindsight, you can bring them in a lap earlier and that would have been taking too much risks.

“It was clearly a 50-50 call at that stage, while taking more risks on a slippery circuit on softs. You win some, you lose some and today, we lost out.”

Having had time to reflect on the session as a whole, Hamilton said he fully backed Mercedes’ strategy calls in the difficult circumstances.

“I think the management from the team was perfect, was spot on,” he said. "Of course you could say that we could have come in early but neither of us felt that it was worth the risk.

“The guys that were in sixth, seventh and eighth, it was easier for them to take a bigger risk and I wasn’t interested in doing so.

“They changed my tyres and my wing and I had to let Valtteri go, so I was in the pit lane without [tyre] blankets on for 64 seconds, something like that, so I lost a huge amount of temperatures in my tyres.

“So now, showing the huge difference in temperature between mine and Valtteri’s tyres, it makes a lot of sense for me on my out-lap and my final lap.

“Obviously we had to let a bunch of people past so had to keep going off line onto the wet lines, so it wasn’t ideal. I’m just now putting all my energy into tomorrow.”