Leclerc was on track for a beautifully managed debut victory for Ferrari when he lost heat-generated electrical power with less than 15 laps remaining, costing him bucketloads of time in the final stage of the race.
Hamilton made quick work of the Monégasque driver, passing him on lap 48, and it took only another six laps for Valtteri Bottas to eliminate his 30-second deficit to Leclerc to deprive him of second place.
Only a lap-55 safety car, triggered for a bizarre double failure for both Renault drivers, saved Leclerc from losing the final spot on the podium to Max Verstappen, but his debut appearance on the rostrum was cold comfort after dominating the weekend.
“Of course I’m extremely disappointed — like the whole team,” he said. “But it happens.
“We have been lucky…we had the safety car in the end, otherwise we would’ve been more rearward.”
However, Leclerc took some solace from Ferrari’s much improved showing after its disappointing performance in Melbourne two weeks earlier.
“A very hard one to take, but thanks to the team for the car all weekend long,” he said. “I’m confident the team has done an amazing job to recover the lack of pace in Australia.
“Today third wasn’t our place, but I’m very happy anyway. We’ll come back stronger.”
Hamilton acknowledged that Leclerc’s driving had warranted victory, and the reigning champion admitted there was still progress to be had in matching Ferrari’s pace.
“That was extremely unfortunate for Charles, he drove such a great race,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got work to do to try to keep these guys at our tails.”
“We were definitely lucky today, but you have to take it as it comes. I still gave it everything in the race, I pushed as hard as I could.”
Bottas would have finished only a distant second had the late-race safety car not bunched up the field, and the Finn complained of a poorly balanced car on a different strategy on the way to completing the team’s second successive one-two finish.
“The car was very reliable, and that’s the win today,” he said. “The hard work at the factory is paying off.
“But it was a difficult race for me, the balance of the car was a bit everywhere.”
Sebastian Vettel finished fifth behind Max Verstappen after a spin in the heat of battle for second place with Hamilton on lap 35.
He was in the process of being dispossessed of second place when he lost control of his Ferrari, flat-spotting all four of his tyres so badly that the ensuing vibrations shattered his front wing as he made his way back to the pits.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was sensational in his second Formula One Grand Prix, fending off Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen for sixth place.
A forgettable performance from Pierre Gasly yielded seventh place after qualifying 13th for Red Bull Racing. The Frenchman did his reputation no favours by finishing only just ahead of rookie Alexander Albon at junior team Toro Rosso.
Sergio Perez rounded out the points-paying places for Racing Point.
But the last-named five drivers all benefitted from a torrid day for Renault after the French team mismanaged its drivers before watching two likely points finishes evaporate when both cars failed within seconds of each other.
Daniel Ricciardo was running sixth early in the race when his team opted to hand him what transpired to be a slow strategy, and the pit wall subsequently allowed him and teammate Nico Hulkenberg to make contact while battling for that position late in the race.
Hulkenberg took the place while Ricciardo slipped down the field as his tyres faded, but both pulled to the side of the road on lap 55 with sudden engine-related failures, triggering a safety car that took the field to the chequered flag.