Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has conceded it was impossible for his team to match Red Bull's "very courageous" undercut strategy at the United States Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton to 12 points with victory at the Circuit of the Americas after twice executing the undercut to pass and build a margin over the seven-time F1 champion.
After Hamilton grabbed the lead from P2 on the grid at the first corner, Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 10, turning a one-second deficit into a six-second lead after the Mercedes driver stopped three laps later.
In the second round of stops, Verstappen took another set of fresh hard tyres on lap 28, with Hamilton making the switch eight laps later in the hope he would have the edge in the closing stages.
Trailing by 8.8secs with 18 laps remaining, Hamilton closed to within DRS range at the start of the final lap but he was never in a position to make a move.
"You could see the different strategies, one team that went for the undercut out of necessity and a very courageous move because it was very early, and the second time again to their advantage," explained Wolff.
“Max’s driving, particularly in the last stint, you could see that he had learned from the second stint not to damage the tyres too early because he had something left at the end.
“But on the contrary, we were just on the back foot because the car was just not fast enough in the first stint on the medium.
"We couldn’t have possibly gone for an earlier stop because based on the data we had on the medium, it didn’t look like we could finish the race at that stage with an early stop."
Asked if the two title protagonists had been at their absolute best in Austin, Wolff added: “Yeah, I think they were.
“Lewis drove awesomely. He brought the tyre in, remained calm - even though we had a six-and-a-half and at the second stop eight-and-a-half seconds to Max -increased the pace and at a certain stage, there was just a massive difference.
“That was brilliantly executed but just not close enough at the end. When you follow a car you start to suffer a bit and if we would have had two laps more, who knows?
“But it is what it is and you need to congratulate Red Bull for their stops.”
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