But a frustrating season ended in more misery for the 2008 champion who was desperate to win, for the first time here, as a salute to the McLaren team with whom he worked for 15 years, as well as an act of homage to his great hero, Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton was favourite to win too, especially when he streaked off from his 26th pole position to extend his advantage in the race. But instead it was his team-mate, Jenson Button, who gave McLaren their seventh victory of the season. Button became the fourth driver in succession to win the race here from second place on the grid. It was his 15th win.
In doing so he closed his gap on Hamilton in the championship to two points. In their three years together at McLaren, Button has scored 15 more points than his more fancied rival.
Hamilton's race finished when Nico Hülkenberg, who was passing him to take the lead, lost control and crashed into the McLaren driver on the 55th lap. Hamilton said: "The dude didn't even come and say sorry and that says a lot. That's what happens when you race with a less experienced driver."
But Hülkenberg did later visit the McLaren motorhome and the Force India driver apologised for the incident.
"I feel a little bit like 2007," Hamilton added, recalling his brilliant rookie year when he lost out to Kimi Raikkonen in the final race. "I feel a little bit numb. It's mixed emotions at the moment. We were leading and we didn't get to see through the race. I always like to see through the race. Then, I'm also excited for the future. Having a new start next year and then hopefully, at some stage, I'll have a little bit of luck."
Button, not for the first time, looked in control in difficult conditions. After his third win of the season he said: "It was one of the toughest races I have ever had. The conditions were very tricky and there were many times I was asking whether I was on the right tyres. I was locking up the tyres here and there. I just had to push to the limit and wait for the team to give you the info. It is not just about driving the car, you need all the info out there.
"Things were made difficult with the first safety car. The race was between me and Nico [Hülkenberg] then, so it was made a lot more difficult and when I came in, I struggled."
Button said he was sorry Hamilton had to retire from the race, as he was enjoying the battle with him.
"It's sad that Lewis isn't here to enjoy his last race with the team but that is racing and these things happen. I would like to bid him farewell. We had a good time together that last three years and we proved it in the first 10 laps when we had a good fight."
For Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, it was also a time for mixed emotions. "It would have been fantastic if we could have scored the one-two finish that was clearly within our reach but for that collision," he said. That one-two would have enabled McLaren to overtake Ferrari for second spot in the constructors' championship.
Whitmarsh added: "Jenson drove a millimetre-perfect race, brilliantly managing the changeable and challenging weather conditions that always bring out the very best in him.
"We've won the season's last two grands prix, both wins the result of our car's sheer pace and that achievement gives us an extremely solid platform from which to develop our 2013 car."
Three times this season, at the beginning, the end and in the middle, McLaren have had the fastest car, only to be let down by operational difficulties and then reliability issues; no team in the paddock are more determined to repair that next year.
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