McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said the team were responsible for Lewis Hamilton's premature exit at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Hamilton spins his wheels in vain after sliding off the track
Hamilton slid off the track on his way into the pits because his tyres had been worn down to the canvas.
"In hindsight we left him out a lap too long. His tyres were very worn. It was our decision," said Whitmarsh.
"We were getting weather information all the time. We didn't want to come in and get on the wrong tyre."
Hamilton began the race on pole and quickly established an advantage as he sought to clinch the win that would give him the world title.
But his four-second lead was slashed in two laps by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who eventually passed the Briton on lap 29.
But even though a white stripe had appeared on Hamilton's right rear tyre where the rubber had completely worn away, McLaren left him out for another lap, during which team-mate Fernando Alonso continued to catch him.
We weren't racing Kimi, we were racing Fernando
Hamilton then lost control of his car in the left-hand corner that leads into the pit lane and slid into the gravel, beaching his McLaren.
And McLaren co-owner Ron Dennis defended their decision to delay Hamilton's stop by saying: "We weren't racing Kimi, we were basically racing Alonso."
Raikkonen went on to win the race from Alonso - and all three men are still in with a chance of the title at the final race of the season in Brazil on 22 October.
Hamilton is four points clear of Alonso, with the Spaniard a further three clear of Raikkonen.
Hamilton refused to blame his team, despite being asked who was responsible for the mistake.
The tyres were finished - these sort of things happen
"The tyres were finished. These sort of things happen. I'm sorry for the team, but I can still do it, don't worry," he said.
"We were having a great race, and we didn't know whether it was going to rain again or not.
"The tyres were getting worse and worse and I came into the pits and it was like ice. I just lost the rear. I couldn't do anything about it.
"I couldn't see in my mirrors, they were completely dirty. I could just feel there was no grip. I was coming in that lap.
"It's unfortunate, but there is still one more race to go.
"When I got out of the car I was just gutted because I hadn't made a mistake all year, and to do it coming into the pits... Well, it's not something I normally do."
Whitmarsh, McLaren's chief executive, said: "It's a shame we couldn't get the job done. "For Lewis, it's very disappointing. For Fernando, he's very much in the championship race.
"We've got a very exciting race in Brazil in two weeks' time."