Lewis Hamilton: From Australia to Abu Dhabi, how Brit won the 2018 Formula 1 drivers' title

Mercedes overcame an underwhelming start to impose their superiority as the Englishman drew level with Juan Manuel Fangio

Lewis Hamilton's F1 season in numbers

If 2017 had been a teaser, 2018 was very nearly the real thing: an all-out fight between Mercedes and Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

After so many years of domination in the turbo-hybrid formula, Mercedes had serious competition from Ferrari, and predictability was the casualty. All through the season it was simply not possible to say who was going to win heading into each of the 21 races.

Mercedes should have won in Australia, but the timing of a safety car deployment caught them on the hop and handed the victory to Vettel, who then won again in Bahrain. Both successes endorsed the view from pre-season testing that the Ferrari were slightly faster.

Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas got more from his Mercedes in the next two races, but lost in China thanks to some excellent strategic reaction by Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo’s brilliant opportunism.

The unthinkable had happened: after three races Mercedes had yet to win, and Red Bull, with their less potent Renault power unit, had.

Hamilton finally bagged one at the fourth attempt, when fortunate circumstances in Azerbaijan saw Vettel make his first error of the year and Bottas robbed at the 11th hour by a puncture. He was late for his victory press conference after going to the team hospitality to console his team-mate.

The Englishman then finally found the sweet spot of the Mercedes W09 EQ Power+ to dominate the Spanish GP, before Ricciardo won again in Monaco even though his Red Bull RB14’s ERS system was on the blink and he was some 160 bhp down on the pursuing Vettel and Hamilton; neither of them could overtake round the tortuous streets of the Principality.

It was at this time that the first speculation filtered out that Ferrari had cleverly exploited a loophole in the regulations with their so-called ‘twin battery’ technology, and against expectations they thrashed Mercedes in Canada before Hamilton triumphed in France, where Vettel again transgressed after running into the back of Bottas at the start.

Mercedes were set to win in Austria but unusually both cars retired, Bottas with hydraulics problems, Hamilton with falling fuel pressure.

Verstappen emerged as a serious future rival to Hamilton during the season

After a tricky start to his season, Max Verstappen headed the Ferraris home to score his first win of the year and Red Bull their third.

Ferrari were again strong as Vettel dished out another surprise beating to Mercedes on Hamilton’s home ground at Silverstone, and the German should also have won at home at Hockenheim, but a small error going into the stadium during a rain shower saw him skittering off the road and into an advertising hoarding. Hamilton won for the fourth time, then sprung a surprise of his own by following up with another in Hungary just before the summer break. He went into it 24 points ahead of Vettel, with Mercedes 10 ahead of Ferrari.

The Scuderia hit back immediately, however, as Vettel trounced Mercedes on the power circuit that is Spa-Francorchamps. The tide was turning again in Ferrari’s favour, and as the power circuit at Monza, and Mercedes’ bogey track in Singapore loomed, a slew of Ferrari victories seemed inevitable. But behind the scenes in Brackley and Brixworth, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had urged his engineers to leave no stone unturned. No suggestion for performance improvement was to be left unexplored.

Hamilton just missed out on pole position at Monza, and immediately took the fight to the red cars at the start. Earlier that day pole-sitter Kimi Raikkonen had learned that his services were no longer required for 2019, and the Finn was in no mood to do Vettel any favours. As he kept his lead going into the first chicane, he left his team-mate compromised on the exit. That enabled Hamilton to get a run at Vettel and to pass him in the second chicane, where Vettel then spun. As the German played catch-up for the rest of the afternoon, Hamilton stalked Raikkonen and then pounced as the Ferrari’s rear tyres went off.

Victory in Japan put Hamilton on the brink of a fifth world crown

That was the start of the reigning champion’s rampage. He took the pole of the season in Singapore and then won again, following that with a win in Russia which was gifted to him by Bottas, then took his fourth success on the bounce in Japan, where Vettel collided with Verstappen.

Suddenly, just as it had the previous year, Ferrari’s challenge had fallen apart. It transpired that, aside from Vettel’s errors, most of the aerodynamic development that had taken place since Belgium had actually made the SF71H slower. There were also suspicions that the FIA had had second thoughts about just how kosher the ‘twin battery’ technology was, or that Mercedes had figured out a version of their own. However you sliced it, Wolff’s rallying call had been answered.

Ferrari finally rediscovered their mojo in Texas, but as Vettel yet again erred and spun on the opening lap, it was Raikkonen who beat Hamilton to the win, with Verstappen also getting his red Bull ahead of the Mercedes by the flag. It was the Finn’s first victory since he rejoined Ferrari in 2014.

Verstappen’s sudden emergence as a serious contender was the last thing Ferrari needed. He’d had a poor start to his season, with errors and retirements, but from Belgium onwards he was very competitive, and a third in Belgium, fifth in Italy, second in Singapore, fifth in Russia, third in Japan and that second in America finally culminated in another victory in Mexico.

Mercedes had their worst race of the season there as Hamilton limped home fourth with horrible tyre wear problems, but he nevertheless joined the great Juan Manuel Fangio by clinching his fifth world championship. Sportingly, Vettel conceded that the better man had won.

Hamilton saw off Vettel to draw level with the great Juan Manuel Fangio 

Verstappen should have won in Brazil too, but clashed with backmarker (and old F3 sparring partner) Esteban Ocon in the second part of the Senna S on the 43rd lap when the impressive young Frenchman audaciously attempted to unlap himself. That put Hamilton into the lead, and his own brilliant race nursing an engine that threatened to explode at any moment due to high temperatures, and worn medium compound tyres that were no match for Verstappen’s supersofts, earned him his 10th success of the season and Mercedes their fifth consecutive world championship for constructors.

Abu Dhabi saw Hamilton take his 83rd pole position, and his 73rd victory, as once again neither Vettel nor Verstappen could do anything to challenge him.

In some ways Ferrari’s collapse created an anti-climax to the season, but it would be far too simplistic to suggest that the result was more a case of Ferrari losing than Mercedes winning. The reds mauled the silvers on many occasions, but consistency as well as speed wins titles and that perhaps made this the most impressive and hardest-won of the Silver Arrows’ string of successes.

Behind the top three the gap to the midfield was a worrying chasm which Liberty Media need to work hard to close, and perhaps they will when a much-needed budget cap is finally agreed. But the quality of the racing, with Renault finishing fourth but both Force India and Haas showing the potential to challenge for that ‘best of the rest’ slot, was always excellent. Were it possible to remove the Big Three, the closeness of the racing would be fantastic.

In 2018 F1 said goodbye to Fernando Alonso, surely one of the two greatest drivers of his era, and as Kimi Raikkonen goes back to Sauber where he started 17 years ago, rookie Charles Leclerc will step into his place in 2019 and will surely offer Vettel something else to think about other than the threat of Honda-powered Red Bulls driven by Verstappen or another upcomer, France’s Pierre Gasly, or Hamilton’s speed.

The Briton, meanwhile, will be joined by three of his compatriots, as Lando Norris partners Carlos Sainz at McLaren, F2 champion George Russell joins Polish battler Robert Kubica at Williams, and Alex Albon, who races under the Thai flag, takes the second Toro Rosso alongside returning Russian Daniil Kvyat. Incredibly, however, the hugely promising Ocon won’t have a seat, at least to begin with, and must tread water as Mercedes’ reserve driver. Such are the vagaries of a sport where money, rather than sheer talent, still has the loudest voice.

There are 110 days before the season kicks off again in Melbourne in March 2019, barely time for the teams and drivers to catch their breath at the relentless speed with which F1 moves on.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in