The five-time world champion lit up Saturday’s qualifying session to take his 84th career pole but his team-mate Valtteri Bottas got the better start at Albert Park and cantered to the chequered flag.
It was the fourth consecutive second-placed finish in Melbourne for Hamilton, who suffered damage to the floor of his W10 on lap four leading to a loss in downforce.
But the Briton said the “glass was half full” and the team had “positive things” to take from the race. He added: “I’ll go back to Europe straight away and I’ll be back in the factory in the week and by the time I get there – I think it’s Wednesday or Thursday – I’ll have a much better understanding of the damage that was on the car, I’ll understand about the start and understand how to try and correct that for the next one.”
Bottas claimed his first win since the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and earned the newly reintroduced bonus point for the fastest lap on a dominant weekend for Mercedes.
The Finn was able to pass Hamilton ahead of the first corner and set about making the most of the clear track, while the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finished fourth and fifth respectively and were almost a minute behind Bottas. Hamilton was surprised by Ferrari’s struggles but expects the Italian team to quickly step their game up.
He added: “No-one was expecting to have a gap like that when we came into the weekend.
“What I was shown and led to believe was that, from the analysis we were given, that they were ahead and obviously that wasn’t the case during this weekend.
“I don’t know what their problem was but I am sure they will come back strongly in the next races, so we have to stay on our toes.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took the third place on the podium after passing Vettel and went on to push Hamilton for second place until the Dutchman took a trip over the grass with nine laps left.
It was the first podium spot for a Honda-powered car in just under 11 years, the last one coming at the British Grand Prix in 2008.
And Hamilton said it would be “awesome” to see how the competition between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull would play out in 2019.
“The Red Bulls are there with us and I think we are going to have a really, really great battle between the three of us,” he said.
The season continues in Bahrain in a fortnight’s time, and Hamilton said the preparations would start straight away.
When asked how he saw the season panning out, he said: “I’ve been here a long, long time and I’ve never known after the first race.
“Usually after the first four races you get a better idea of where we all stand. It could be like this for four races or it could be more scattered.
“I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t tell you, but I can assure you that we are going to be pushing onwards and upwards from here.”