Mercedes Head of Race Strategy Rosie Wait has insisted Lewis Hamilton had to be prioritised in the fight against Carlos Sainz at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix because George Russell was a "sitting duck".
Russell and Hamilton had a number of flashpoints during the race at Suzuka as both tried to advance position following an under par qualifying.
With the seven-time World Champion having followed a conventional strategy in line with his rivals, Russell opted to try and pull off a one-stop strategy, leaving him at the mercy of the chasing pack once their new tyres were fitted.
When Hamilton and Sainz latched onto the back of his W14, Russell was instructed to allow his teammate by to consolidate position, though he was initially unwilling to do so until the final lap.
But the move eventually came and despite one lap of DRS assistance behind Hamilton, the Ferrari driver eventually overhauled the second Silver Arrow to finish in between the two Britons.
After the trio finished fifth, sixth and seventh, Mercedes fans were left to question whether more could have been done to help Russell remain ahead of the Spaniard.
"In this situation, it would be lovely if there was a pause button where you could take a time out, and we could just chat and discuss with the drivers," explained Wait.
"We could have understood from George how the tyres are feeling and how likely it was to be able to maintain his pace as the race progressed.
"We could have spoken to both about the options for defending. Overtaking is difficult in Suzuka, but it is no Singapore. Whilst the vast majority of overtakes happen in the DRS zone into turn 1, there is still around 50 per cent of overtakes that are just scattered around the rest of the track. "
Writing was on the wall
Highlighting the risks faced by Mercedes during the battle, Wait added: "I am sure we could have worked together as a team to defend both of their positions into turn 1 but the question is: Would that have put us at risk in the rest of the circuit?
"Had Sainz been able to overtake Lewis, George would have been a sitting duck. Given what we saw with how easily [Oscar] Piastri and [Charles] Leclerc were able to get through George, the writing was really on the wall for him, and it was overwhelmingly likely that whatever we tried to do he wasn’t going to be able to defend those positions.
"Our focus therefore had to shift to making sure that we didn’t compromise the position that we had already gained to Sainz with Lewis.
"We did give it our best shot with the two cars, but ultimately this is not a circuit where that works, and George was always destined to finish in P7 unfortunately."