Team boss Mattia Binotto admitted Ferrari had "screwed up" on Saturday when they were uncompetitive in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying and failed to give Charles Leclerc a chance to clock a final hot lap.
The team decided to delay the Monegasque's release until the final seconds to gain from improving track conditions, said Binotto, after Leclerc missed reaching the start line in time to begin his second timed lap of the session.
"Obviously, we knew that we were not too competitive today -- especially in losing a lot of time in the last sector," he said. "In the last attempt, we tried to do whatever we could and we took risks.
"It was our conscious choice to go at the last minute and it was too tight. We screwed up."
A disappointed Leclerc observed on team radio that his team-mate Sebastian Vettel had slowed down ahead of him on the track, a problem that was beyond their control as a group of drivers backed each other up ahead of him.
"I think here we were completely aware and conscious of what could have been the risks," Binotto added. "It was a risk we knew that we were taking, but this didn't work today."
After the session, Leclerc said he had no idea about what happened ahead of him, which prevented him starting his lap on time. "It's life sometimes," he shrugged.
"I don't know whether the situation was unlucky or whether we could have done anything better, but we'll analyse it and try to understand for it to not happen again because it's a big shame."
Vettel had admitted earlier in the day that he was feeling torn by his desire to be with his wife and family following the arrival of their third child and his commitment to Ferrari and racing.
He said: "Alex (Albon) was backing up because he had a McLaren in front of him. I don't know who was in front of the McLaren or whether the McLaren could be closer.
"It was a pity because my tyres were very cold to start with and I lost it straight in the first corner and Charles didn't even start a lap."
Neither Ferrari driver produced the pace to threaten Mercedes, who topped the times through Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
With Bottas relegated to the back of the grid after taking new engines, Red Bull's Max Verstappen will start on the front row alongside six-time champion Hamilton.
Vettel said he would have liked "to stay at home" earlier when asked about his feelings following the birth of his third child, a son, on Wednesday.
He was given leave to miss Thursday's news media appointments and arrived late that night.
"Maybe this is the first weekend where the feeling is strongest that I would also like to stay at home," he told RTL.
"I want to bring the season to a good end, but at the same time, of course, I would like to be home with my wife -- so I am torn."
He added that all was well.
"Everything went well and, of course, I am very, very happy.... Thank God you can stay in touch these days, but I am torn."