Mercedes says the team orders it enforced in the Japanese Grand Prix were aimed at protecting Lewis Hamilton even if the Briton considered that the tactic "made no sense".
In the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix, the menacing Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was progressively chasing down the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton who were fourth and fifth in the running order at that point.
As the Brackley squad's strategists assessed the situation, it was decided that Hamilton, on fresher tyres, would swap positions with Russell, a move questioned by the latter.
But as Hamilton began to stretch his advantage over his teammate, and therefore over Sainz, Mercedes requested that he fall back to let Russell pick up DRS and help him fend off the fast-moving Ferrari.
Although the DRS tactic was implemented to protect Hamilton, the seven-time world champion was critical of the idea and believed that his interests would have been better served by letting build up a lead while Russell dealt with Sainz.
"I don't think that was a good idea at all," Hamilton explained after the race. "When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race, and it made no sense."
But Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin later explained that the team had established its priority: protecting first and foremost Hamilton's position.
"It is quite difficult to organise the cars live," Shovlin explained. "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 on 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."
Earlier in the race, Hamilton and Russell had fought hard against each other, the pair battling wheel-to-wheel and coming dangerously close to making contact.
But they were then separated on the track when they followed diverging strategies, with Hamilton undertaking two pitstops while Russell swapped his mediums for hards later in the race than his teammate and then extended his second stint all the way to the checkered flag.
Asked if their incisive fight had dictated Mercedes' strategy calls, Shovlin said: "No, not really. Because in terms of what the team’s doing, we’re trying to score points against Ferrari, certainly in a race like this.
“Once we realised that we’re not challenging McLaren for a podium, we’re looking at what’s going on with Ferrari.
"We were trying to use the two cars effectively to give us those opportunities, and being able to get one of them was useful damage limitation given that they both started ahead of us in the race."
During Hamilton and Russell's early skirmish, the latter was pushed wide at one point by his teammate, which compelled him to buzz the Mercedes pitwall: "Who do we want to fight? Each other, or the others? Russell said.
But when all was said and done, Mercedes Communications Director Bradley Lord played down the intense exchange, insisting the team would discuss the matter in private.
"They raced each other hard, at a hard racers’ track," he told Sky Sports F1. "So I think it’s always easy to read a lot into those radio messages in the heat of the moment.
"But as always, we do the talking about it a little bit out of the pressure and out of the high temperatures of the cockpit here today in Suzuka and in the engineering debrief afterwards, so I’m sure that’s where anything will get tidied up that needs tidying up."