Hamilton managed to jump to the front of the pack after the opening lap after a poor start from team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The four-time world champion looked in cruise control and was opening up a commanding lead over the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
And fortune was on his favour once again when his closest challenger, Bottas, had to retire from the race with a gearbox failure.
But the Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes failed to take advantage of the chance to pit while his race rivals did.
Hamilton battled desperately to try and open up a big enough gap to ensure he would come out back in front.
But by the time he did pit, the 33-year-old ended up re-entering the race in fourth.
”I’m fourth now?!” Hamilton asked in a despairing tone.
“I want to say something but I…just leave me to it, Bono.”
And there was further frustration for the Briton as Vettel was able to overtake him, leading to another angry radio message.
“I don’t get it guys, I just don’t,” Hamilton said
“I’m not going to be able to pass these guys, just thrown away a win.”
Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles replied: “Lewis, it’s James. I’ve thrown away the win today but you have the potential opportunity to get back up.
“Just let the tyres cool, we trust in you and believe in you.”