Mark Webber won the Spanish Grand prix and became the first driver to win from pole this season.
It was the 33-year-old Australian’s first win this year, and third of his career, elevating him up to fourth in the championship, the 25 points for the victory almost as much as his haul from the first four races.
Hamilton should have grabbed the runner-up spot for the second successive race, only to suffer a suspension failure on the penultimate lap that plunged him into a tyre wall, with the Briton fortunately emerging unharmed.
That, though, was to the delight of the Spanish fans as Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished second, benefiting also from Sebastian Vettel suffering an issue with the front right of his Red Bull that dropped him to third.
It was never going to be a classic, not at a track where three of the last five races had resulted in just two overtaking manoeuvres, and so it proved.
There was none of Formula One’s magic ingredient – water – to spice up the show on this occasion, as had been the case in the last three races in Australia, Malaysia and China.
On a dry track, once the first six cars on the grid had emerged out of the first corner in the same order in which they started, you knew strategy or a retirement would be the only two factors that would result in a positional change.
Again, so it proved, with Jenson Button and Hamilton emerging a loser and an initial winner at the only round of stops that began in earnest around lap 15.
Button and Michael Schumacher, who had started from fifth and sixth, traded those places as the Mercedes crew managed to pull off a marginally better job than their counterparts at McLaren.
What followed was a case of follow-my-leader, despite Button’s best efforts to pass the slower 41-year-old in the following laps.
The current world champion made several attempts on the seven-time champion at the first corner, but it was never enough to make it count.
The flip-side for McLaren saw Hamilton pass Vettel, and in the most dramatic of circumstances to provide one of the two highlights of the race, both of them involving the 2008 world champion.
Emerging onto the pit straight, Hamilton soon had Vettel alongside him at over 200mph, but with a slow Lucas di Grassi in his Virgin directly in front of them as they turned into the first corner.
In order to avoid being tagged by Hamilton who had the line going into the left-hander, Di Grassi was forced to veer onto the inside kerb.
Vettel was then forced to run wide and cut across turn two, running over one of the rubber rumble strips in the process designed to slow a car down should they be forced to make an evasive manoeuvre.
It was effectively Formula One’s version of ‘chicken’ and Hamilton emerged the winner.
After amassing 32 overtaking manoeuvres in the previous four races, Hamilton did not manage one on-track move in this event.
Sadly for the 25-year-old cruel luck then hit him hard on lap 65 of 66, and with the chequered flag just four miles away at the time.
If Hamilton had avoided such misery he would have ended the day a point ahead of team-mate Button at the top of the standings.
As it is, he is now 21 points adrift of Button, who has a three-point cushion to Alonso, who is a further seven points ahead of Vettel.
Schumacher’s fourth place was his best result this year in a car now much to his liking, albeit one that still finished over a minute behind Webber.
In stark contrast, team-mate Nico Rosberg, who had finished third in the last two races, now finds himself in reverse as he was a woeful 13th.
Behind Button, the top 10 was completed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil for Force India, Robert Kubica in his Renault, Rubens Barrichello for Williams and Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari.
“I’m rapt,” said Webber with a beaming smile after his win. “After qualifying yesterday it was a great position to start the race.
“It was quite tight into turn one and we had a good battle through there, but then I settled into a rhythm after that.
“We made sure the tyres were in pretty good nick, a clean pit stop, and after that I had Lewis behind me and controlled the gap.
“The team have been incredible this week. Red Bull and Renault have put the work in, and in the end I’m thrilled.”
Alonso was also smiling after the two slices of good fortune that fell his way late on, as he said: “I’m extremely happy after the result
“When you gain two positions in the race late on, it’s a fantastic result, but as I’ve said before we need to improve.”
In contrast to Webber, Vettel wore a glum look as he said: “A lot of things went wrong.
“There was no chance to get past Mark at the start, and then I was not quick enough. I struggled with the balance of the car.
“I think we came in too early (for the pit stop), and so we could not get Lewis on the strategy side.
“It was close when Lewis came out, and to avoid contact I went wide, and after that it was impossible to pass.
“With 15 laps to the end the front brakes said goodbye.
“I don’t know how to feel. It’s third position, and good to take some points, but so many things happened.”