Hamilton inherited the lead at the start of the race when Verstappen ran wide unchallenged at Turn 1 and went on to control the opening stint, pulling a three second gap to his main rival.

Red Bull reacted to Valtteri Bottas becoming the first of the leaders to pit on Lap 18 by calling Verstappen in on the next tour. A stunning out-lap from Verstappen enabled him to sneak ahead of Hamilton when the Mercedes driver re-emerged from the pits a lap later.

Mercedes was not banking on the undercut to be so powerful, with all of its modelling simulations pointing towards Hamilton being able to retain his lead following his pit stop.

“We thought, when we had just over three seconds to Max, that we were safe from the undercut, and that wasn’t the case,” Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin explained.

“Even now, we don’t fully understand why our models were telling us that we would have been okay. So clearly there’s something we need to go off and understand there.

“The hard tyre was good out of the box but we still need to go through it, because we haven’t understood quite why we lost the position,” he added.

“We can account for about two and a half seconds of the three seconds, but it’s something we need to dig into the fine detail of to understand how we were undercut from so far back, because we weren’t expecting that.”

A strategic masterstroke from Red Bull to commit Verstappen to a two-stopper opened the door for the Dutchman to overtake the one-stopping Hamilton for the win on the penultimate lap of the race.

While Shovlin acknowledged that it would have found itself in a “decent position” had it pitted Hamilton immediately after Bottas came in, he insisted that a two-stop strategy was unlikely to work.

“If we brought Lewis in the lap after Valtteri, whether Max would have followed that we don’t know, but if we’d done that, I think that would have put us in a decent position,” he said.

“I think switching Lewis to a two-stop wouldn’t have worked the same because Max only just got us and we would have had to get through Sergio [Perez], and of course that’s going to be more difficult for Lewis than it was for Max.

“So we thought we were okay. We couldn’t have been any further up the road, Lewis had gone flat out in that first stint, but it would have just been stopping a lap earlier.”

The last-gasp defeat promoted Mercedes strategy chief James Vowles to apologise to Hamilton, saying: “This one’s on us.”

When asked why Mercedes opted not to pit Hamilton before Bottas, Shovlin replied: “Because it was uncomfortably early to go to the end. Also, the concern on Valtteri’s car was that he was getting an increasing vibration, that was getting worse and worse every lap.

“That was starting to get to levels where we would box the car for reliability concerns, so really the focus was making sure we didn’t have an issue on track. That was why we did it.

“In reality, Valtteri’s pit stop triggered the pit stops at the front of the grid and that was what drove us to having to do a very long stint with Lewis.”

Shovlin ultimately felt Mercedes failed to capitalise on having a competitive race car and admitted the team can’t afford to keep letting opportunities pass it by with the title battle so finely balanced.

“We’re in a championship where we can’t really afford to let these opportunities go by the way we did today,” he said.

“They weren’t easy decisions at the time they come up and fundamentally, we’ve got a good race car, we showed that today. We’re lacking a bit in qualifying but in terms of a race on a normal circuit, we are able to put them under pressure.

“But we know to win races we’ve got to be next to perfect and there’s plenty of things we can go away and reflect on and say ‘we didn’t do a good enough job’.

"We are pretty good at being brutal at analysing ourselves and we will go and do that for a couple of days and hopefully come back in Austria stronger.”