Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says another strategy call has cost Lewis Hamilton a stronger result at the start of the 2018 Formula 1 campaign after it opted not to pit the defending champion under the safety car during the Chinese Grand Prix.

In the dramatic safety car period midway through the Chinese race, Mercedes decided against pitting Hamilton from fourth place in order to hold on to track position, which was boosted to third place when Red Bull opted to pit both its drivers including Max Verstappen ahead of him.

Despite Mercedes' simulations pointing towards staying out on track as the faster strategy for the race it quickly unfolded against Hamilton with both Red Bull drivers profiting with fresher tyres.

Hamilton was promoted to fourth place after Verstappen’s 10-second time penalty for clashing with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel but Wolff concedes the Mercedes strategy call cost the four-time F1 world champion a stronger result at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We thought at the time that track position would be more beneficial,” Wolff said. “You could see that in the first stint there was no overtaking, and Lewis was a medium at that stage, barely 10 laps old.

“Our calculation predicted the medium would last to the end, and putting a new soft we thought wouldn’t give you such a performance advantage, much more than we expected.

“Now looking back, it wasn’t the right strategy, it would have been the right strategy with the second soft. Nobody in the team including myself thought it was the right thing to do.

“The Ferraris and Mercedes decided for the same strategy, we stayed out, and I don’t think it was a matter of focus, it was a matter of the quickest race. That’s what our simulations showed.”

Wolff feels Red Bull might have been surprised by their own race pace after pitting for fresh tyres at the end of the race but stands by Mercedes’ decision not to follow suit with Hamilton.

“I’m not sure if Red Bull were surprised by their own pace but we were and everybody else was,” he said. “But in these conditions today, it was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t on our radar.”

Hamilton also lost out to a “software bug” in a strategy call at the 2018 F1 opener in Australia which miscalculated the time gap needed to stay ahead of Vettel after he pitted during the Virtual Safety Car period which saw the Ferrari drive steal victory at Albert Park.

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