March 24 (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton returned to McLaren sooner than expected on Sunday when the Mercedes driver surprised mechanics by mistakenly pulling up outside his old team's garage during a Malaysian Grand Prix pitstop.
The 2008 Formula One world champion moved from McLaren, his backers since boyhood, to Mercedes at the end of last season and appeared to have adjusted well to the change until he sprung his Sepang surprise.
"I don't know what happened. The teams look so similar," he told the BBC. "I have been stopping in that pit box for years. It's an easy mistake and hopefully one I won't make again."
Hamilton, watched by singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, went on to finish third for his 50th Formula One podium and first for his new team.
McLaren, whose mechanics swiftly waved him on, made light of the mistake and gently poked fun at their ex-driver on their Twitter feed: "Feel free to pop in and say 'Hi' any time @lewishamilton," they said.
When Hamilton left McLaren last year, team principal Martin Whitmarsh had said that the Briton might come back one day.
The Briton was also able to see the funny side in a post-race news conference.
"I just did a Jenson (Button)," he declared. "He did that a couple of years ago. I'm used to, for so many years, driving to the McLaren pit stop (but) I don't know how I got it wrong. So big apologies to the team."
Button, Hamilton's team mate last season, mistakenly stopped his McLaren in front of the Red Bull garage during the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix.