A poor start and a problem changing a rear wheel on his first pitstop left the Mercedes driver playing catch-up while team mate Nico Rosberg cruised to his first win of the season.

Third into the first corner, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel slipping past, Hamilton fought back to finish second and ensure he takes a 20-point lead over Rosberg to Monaco in two weeks' time.

"I'm grateful I could gain those points for the team and it's kind of damage limitation for me, so it's not bad," the double world champion told reporters.

Rosberg, who had not beaten Hamilton since November last year, was far down the road -- some 22 seconds -- after Hamilton made his last stop with 15 laps to go.

"I pushed very hard to see if I could have the pace on him in order to close it but it was less than a second (gain a lap) really," he said.

"I pushed right until there was, like, six laps to go and I still had 13 seconds to go. So after that I kind of realised that I should bring the car home and live to fight another day."

Hamilton made three stops to Rosberg's two, looking for something that might get him back into the frame, but the German's position proved unassailable.

"Today was a very very tough day, obviously, because I had to make up from the bad start and perhaps my true pace...I wasn't really able to show it compared to Nico," he said.

"This is just a hiccup, I guess, this weekend."

Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said Hamilton had recognised before the weekend that Barcelona was not his favourite track and had struggled to get the right setup for the conditions.

Losing out to Rosberg in Saturday qualifying, after four poles in a row, had also been a setback.

"The minute you are able to control the pace of the race from the front it gives you a big advantage and this is what Nico did today in a very controlled way," Wolff said.

"The result feels like P1 (first) and P1 because on a three-stop, with a compromised start and a compromised pit-stop, P2 (second) was really great driving from Lewis."

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