But it was Carlos Sainz, who sealed his first grand prix win in his 150th race start, defying team orders to easily pass teammate Charles Leclerc following a late safety car as Hamilton had to make do with his second straight podium.
Hamilton and Mercedes were left to rue a missed opportunity with a late change to soft tyres, which Hamilton questioned, and appeared to make his car harder to handle. And yet it was a notable step forward in a car he described as undriveable at the start of last grand prix weekend in Canada in front of a record 142,000 fans at Silverstone.
A race, which was captivating from lap one to the chequered flag, had to be red flagged on the opening lap following a dramatic melee which saw Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo dramatically flip and fly into the barriers. Remarkably, he escaped unscathed, his life undoubtedly saved by the halo device.
Deemed a racing incident by the stewards, it happened as George Russell moved to cut off Pierre Gasly was clipped and, in turn, hit Zhou, who saw the top of his car skidding across the track before flying over the tyre wall and into the barriers.
That Zhou was given a clean bill of health after the 160mph shunt and his extraction was remarkable, so too that no marshals were injured. It also ended the races of Alex Albon, who was being checked over at Coventry Hospital after hitting the wall, and Russell.
Amid the red flag, four protestors climbed the fence and performed a sit-down protest on the track, leading the slowing cars to drive their way past them before the quartet were arrested.
When racing finally resumed, Sainz, who had been passed by Max Verstappen at the initial start, had a much better start second time around.
Leclerc touched with Perez twice, forcing the Mexican into the pits and damaging the front end plate of the Ferrari.
A weekend which had begun with Verstappen dominating ended with him in a lowly seventh place and spending more time remonstrating with his team on the race radio than fighting for track position.
He came into the pits with what he thought was a puncture on lap 12 and, on his return to the track, said over the race radio “the car is 100% broken”. The team said otherwise but he lacked the sort of pace that had seen him dominate the early weekend practice sessions because of bodywork damage.
It looked set to pave the way for the two Ferraris to battle it out for the win before Hamilton had other ideas. Nigel Mansell had once said that the home crowd was worth a second a lap. Whatever the reality, Hamilton pulled fastest lap after fastest lap on the medium tyres before pitting and coming out just behind the Ferraris after a pitstop 1.5seconds slower than his rivals.
When Esteban Ocon ground to a halt on the track on lap 39, the safety car came out. With only a split second to decide, Ferrari made a costly error in not bringing Leclerc into the pits but Sainz and Hamilton did, going onto the soft tyres.
Sainz was told by his team to give his teammate space before the safety car pulled in and to back up Hamilton in the process but he refused and comfortably passed him on the resumption of racing.
Hamilton, meanwhile, struggled to get up to speed on the softs and found himself embroiled in some thrilling racing with Perez and Leclerc with multiple changes of track position in the dying laps of the race.
All three went off the track at different stages before Perez’s superior straight-line speed saw him past and pull clear. It was a great escape by the Mexican, who had been last before climbing up to second at the chequered flag, with Hamilton rounding off the podium at the end of a truly captivating race.
For Leclerc, it was a case of what might have been and what could also have been a race win without the late safety car.