The seven-time world champion, on a two-stop strategy, found himself chasing down his one-stopping Mercedes teammate in the final stages of Sunday’s race at Suzuka amid a battle to seal fifth place. 

Both drivers were being caught by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who like Hamilton was two-stopping and had fresher tyres. 

Hamilton insisted that he should be waved past Russell but it took several laps for the switch to take place, by which time Sainz was right behind the Mercedes pair.

Once he was past Russell, Hamilton was asked to back off so Russell could benefit from using his DRS in a bid to keep Sainz behind. 

Despite following the order, Sainz was still able to overtake Russell before putting Hamilton under pressure in the final few laps. 

And Hamilton did not understand the rationale behind the call. 

"I don't think that was a good idea at all," Hamilton said. "When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race, and it made no sense.

"I needed to get as far clear ahead as possible and I was on my way. I was around two seconds ahead and they asked me then to give George DRS, so I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8s behind.

"He got DRS, but got overtaken, which was going to happen because he was on a one-stop and we were on a two.

"Then he [Sainz] got past him and he was right on my tail, so yeah, not ideal. It made it very hard for the last couple of laps, but I think as a team we've got to be grateful for a fifth and seventh. It's better than a sixth and seventh.”

Hamilton added: "We should have swapped around earlier and I should have got as far ahead as possible to keep the gap as big as I could to the Ferrari.

"I think if we had inverted, maybe George would have had a better time holding him behind maybe, but because he was trying to fight me and damaging his tyres then I think it just made it all complicated.

"The fact is we're not fighting each other in the teams' championship, as the drivers' is not important where we are.

"What's important is one of us finishes ahead of the Ferrari to keep the position [in the constructors' championship]. So today we really needed to work as a team."

Mercedes' trackside engeering director Andrew Shovlin insisted the call was also about protecting Hamilton. 

“It is quite difficult to organise the cars live,” he said. "When we decided to switch them, it was more when we saw how quick Carlos was coming in behind them, and that Lewis in the middle could have been at risk who was old tyres as well.  

“Maybe it could have worked out better, but the thing is we were trying to protect against Lewis losing that position as well, as he was the one most likely to finish ahead of Carlos.”