How the 2018 driver's championship was won

By on

Two drivers entered 2018 with a chance of winning a fifth world drivers crown. It was Lewis Hamilton who was ultimately victorious, matching Juan Manuel Fangio's tally of titles with a 4th placed finish in Mexico.

The 2018 championship battle has been characterised by mistakes from both the Mercedes and Ferrari teams - owing to the pressure of having two rival teams capable of winning week-on-week. Sebastian Vettel has arguably been placed in positions of having to recover from a team mistake more often than Lewis Hamilton, and at more critical points of the season, which has led to some incidents which could be described as driver error. Interestingly Mercedes have also been more willing to sacrifice Bottas' race results this year to assist Hamilton's championship position than Ferrari with Raikkonen. Hamilton's form in 2018 has been imperious though, taking 9 wins to Vettel's 5 (so far), and it is ultimately this which has made the difference in the 2018 title battle.

Australia: Hamilton P2, Vettel P1 Hamilton -- Vettel: -7pts

Mercedes arguably had the faster car in Australia and Hamilton started the first race of the season from pole, leading early on, but Mercedes made their first strategy mistake of the season, miscalculating the gap required over Vettel in case of a virtual safety car. When the VSC was deployed to recover Romain Grosjean's stricken Haas (released from the pits with the rear wheel unsecured) Vettel was able to gain time in the pits, Hamilton having stopped 7 laps earlier, to emerge ahead of Hamilton.

Bahrain: Hamilton P3, Vettel P1 Hamilton -- Vettel: -17pts

In the second race of the year Ferrari were the faster of the top two teams, Vettel leading from pole for a comfortable lead. Ferrari opted to pit Raikkonen for his second stop before Vettel, to cover Valtteri Bottas, it was during this stop that a Ferrari crew member suffered a horrific leg break, closing the Ferrari pit box to traffic as paramedics treated the mechanic. Raikkonen was retired having stopped in the pit lane without his left rear secured (Ferrari were subsequently fined for an unsafe release). Vettel had to struggle on with a very second hand set of tyres as Bottas closed the gap to finish just 0.7s behind Vettel at the chequered flag. Hamilton also had an eventful race, recovering to 3rd after getting a rear puncture during a battle with Max Verstappen.

China: Hamilton P4, Vettel P8 Hamilton -- Vettel: -9pts

Vettel failed to secure a maximum haul of points for the first time in the season after being punted into a spin by an overambitious Verstappen lunge, suffering floor damage. Vettel struggled on to finish only 8th, while Verstappen finished 5th with a 10 second penalty. Daniel Ricciardo won the race after a tactical master-stroke by the Red Bull team, pitting both cars during VSC conditions, Mercedes made their second strategy error of the season by failing to pit Hamilton (Bottas had already passed the pit entry when the VSC was deployed), who went on to finish where he started in P4.

Azerbaijan: Hamilton P1, Vettel P4 Hamilton -- Vettel: +4pts

Hamilton took the lead in the drivers championship for the first time with victory in Azerbaijan. Vettel started on pole and led early on, Mercedes opted for the counter-strategy with Bottas in an attempt to secure victory by gaining track position with a long second stint, aiming to use the softest tyre in the final stint to close the gap and hopefully overtake Vettel. The race was turned on its head though when the Red Bulls collided, leading to a safety car. All the top drivers pitted for new tyres, and Bottas was able to retain the lead. The safety car period was extended when Romain Grosjean crashed while warming his tyres, meaning when the safety car withdrew there was a three lap race to the flag. The long safety car period also meant most drivers were struggling for tyre temperature and pressure, it was here Vettel arguably made his first error of the season, attempting to out-brake Bottas for the lead into turn 1, but ultimately dropping behind Hamilton, Raikkonen, and Perez by the finish. The following lap Bottas suffered a puncture and retired, promoting Hamilton to victory.

Spain: Hamilton P1, Vettel P4 Hamilton -- Vettel: +17pts

The Spanish GP was the first event in 2018 where Pirelli brought the thinner gauge tyres, requested by Mercedes after pre-season testing, with a reduced tread depth of 0.4mm to minimize overheating in the tyre carcass. Mercedes went on to produce a dominant performance finishing first and second. Ferrari made their first strategy error, losing time when pitting under the VSC, which dropped Vettel behind Verstappen. Hamilton extended his lead by 13 points.

Monaco: Hamilton P3, Vettel P2 Hamilton -- Vettel: +14pts

Red Bull had the fastest car in Monaco, with Ricciardo taking pole and victory. Verstappen crashed in free practice and was not able to qualify, starting P20. An ERS failure in the race cost Riccardo ~160bhp of power, but the narrow nature of the Monte Carlo street circuit meant he was able to fend off Vettel and Hamilton to claim victory. Vettel finished in 2nd place to close the gap to Hamilton by 3 points.

Canada: Hamilton P5, Vettel P1 Hamilton -- Vettel: -1pts

Ferrari introduced their upgraded power unit in Canada but only Vettel was able to take the upgrade without penalty as Raikkonen had taken a new power unit in Spain. Hamilton and Mercedes had to wait a week for their updated V6 turbo. Vettel led from pole to win comfortably. While Hamilton, also suffering with tyre issues, lost out to Ricciardo in the pit stops, dropping from P4 to P5.

France: Hamilton P1, Vettel P5 Hamilton -- Vettel: +14pts

F1's return to France was also the first leg of the first ever triple-header, and the second race with Pirelli's thinner gauge tyres. Mercedes had the upper hand on form again with their new PU, locking out the front row. Vettel then made a mistake at the start, boxed in by the Mercedes' he misjudged his braking, colliding with Bottas - for which he earned a 5 second penalty. Helped by a safety car for a first lap collision between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, Vettel was able to fight through the field to 5th, but a win meant Hamilton left France having again regained the championship lead.

Austria: Hamilton DNF, Vettel P3 Hamilton -- Vettel: -1pts

Austria saw Mercedes' first double mechanical DNF of the hybrid-era. The multiple full and virtual safety cars made strategy difficult to judge and Verstappen earned his first win of 2018 with a master class of tyre saving. Vettel finished P3 behind Raikkonen as Ferrari made the right moral choice in allowing Raikkonen to finish 2nd, but perhaps not the best result in the context of the championship fight. Vettel retook the championship lead from Hamilton, but could have led by 4 points rather than 1.

Britain: Hamilton P2, Vettel P1 Hamilton -- Vettel: -8pts

For the second race in three weeks the start saw a collision between a Ferrari and a Mercedes, this time it was Hamilton who was spun by Raikkonen at turn 3, dropping to the rear of the pack. Hamilton has some small fortune when the safety car was called following Marcus Ericsson's crash at Abbey, Mercedes kept their cars out to gain track position, while Ferrari pitted for fresh rubber. Hamilton, having pitted later than Bottas, held on for 2nd, while Bottas struggled at the end and dropped to 4th. After the race Hamilton again flirted with the controversy which has followed his career by insinuating the Ferrari's were deliberately causing accidents with the Mercedes' drivers, a claim firmly refuted by Ferrari.

Germany: Hamilton P1, Vettel DNF Hamilton -- Vettel: +17pts

The championship see-saw swung back towards Hamilton at Vettel's home race. After a mechanical failure in qualifying meant Hamilton started in P14, it looked like Vettel would extend his lead when he qualified on pole, instead Hamilton left Germany with a 25 point swing. Rain in the race upset the order, after Vettel had led early on, putting Vettel behind Raikkonen on wet tyres. Ferrari delayed the call to move Raikkonen aside for a number of laps, agitating Vettel as Verstappen closed the gap behind. Vettel then slipped off the road from the lead, crashing out of the race, his first and only DNF so far in 2018. Hamilton produced another of his sublime wet weather drives to win, but only after managing to escape punishment for cutting the final corner from the pit entry following some confusion between himself and his race-engineer as to whether or not to box.

Hungary: Hamilton P1, Vettel P2 Hamilton -- Vettel: +24pts

Ferrari inarguably had the quickest car in Hungary, but a wet qualifying session opened the door for Mercedes to lock out the front row. The Mercedes led away from the Ferrari's before the pit stops, Raikkonen blinked first, opting for a two-stop strategy and Mercedes chose to cover with Bottas, allowing Vettel to close the gap to Hamilton. Hamilton then pitted from the lead, handing P1 to Vettel who stopped after the halfway point on a one-stop strategy - but a slow stop meant Vettel returned to the track behind Bottas who was on well worn tyres having pitted around the first of Raikkonen's stops. Bottas performed his first "wingman" duties for Mercedes, remaining on-track well beyond the point at which his tyres seemed spent, almost taking Vettel out in the process, but did enough in holding Vettel's charge to allow Hamilton to build an unassailable lead. Bottas then tumbled down the order, finishing behind Raikkonen and Ricciardo after a further collision and a penalty, but his more important role in Hamilton's championship fight had been completed. For the second race in a row Hamilton extended his lead when it looked like Vettel would be in a position of dominance heading into the summer break.

Belgium: Hamilton P2, Vettel P1 Hamilton -- Vettel: +17pts

Ferrari returned from the summer break having seemingly made strides over Mercedes on their power unit. A wet-dry qualifying saw Hamilton on pole, but Vettel was able to out-drag the Mercedes out of Radillon and into Les Combes from the start. Even after a safety car caused by Hulkenburg piling into Alonso and Leclerc at turn 1, Hamilton was unable to get a run on Vettel as he did in 2017 and eventually turned down the engine to settle for 2nd place, losing 7 points in the championship.

Italy: Hamilton P1, Vettel P4 Hamilton -- Vettel: +30pts

Ferrari had the fastest car again at Monza, locking out the front row of the grid, but it was arguably the wrong Ferrari on pole, as Raikkonen benefited from a tow from Vettel to take pole. This decision left Vettel vulnerable to Hamilton from the start, and the Brit duly passed the Ferrari into the second chicane. Vettel tried to hang Hamilton out on the outside of the corner but ended up spinning after a seemingly innocuous contact - the first of three such incidents which blighted the tail end of his season. Vettel again recovered, but only to 4th. Bottas performed another of his "wingman" races for Hamilton, Mercedes keeping the Finn out to slow his countryman Raikkonen, who suffered from severe tyre blistering, leaving him incapable of defending from Hamilton. This would prove to be the beginning of the end for Vettel's championship hopes as Hamilton began a four race winning streak.

Singapore: Hamilton P1, Vettel P3 Hamilton -- Vettel: +40pts

Hamilton was dominant in Singapore, the only driver remotely close on pace was Verstappen, while Vettel could only manage P3, nearly 40s behind the race winning Brit. Vettel had managed to overtake Verstappen on the first lap to follow Hamiton when the safety car was deployed after the Force India's of Perez and Ocon had collided. However, Ferrari made a mistake on strategy, pitting Vettel into traffic, enabling Verstappen to over-cut him. The gaps stabilised in a fairly unspectacular race and Hamilton extended his lead by 10 points.

Russia: Hamilton P1, Vettel P3 Hamilton -- Vettel: +50pts

Mercedes were strongest again in Russia, but it was Bottas who took pole and led for much of the race. A strategy error from Mercedes allowed Vettel to pass Hamilton in the pit phase, but Hamilton was able to reel in and pass Vettel for P2, before Bottas was asked by Mercedes to give up a probable first win of the season for Hamilton. The race was not without further controversy as Hamilton suspected Vettel of making a double move to block him on the start straight - from Hamilton's onboard this looked to be the case but from the long forward shot and Vettel's onboard and telemetry it did not, and the FIA stewards decided no action was required. It proved to be irrelevant anyway as, possibly spurred on by the perceived slight, Hamilton was spectacularly past Vettel just three corners later.

Japan: Hamilton P1, Vettel P6 Hamilton -- Vettel: +67pts

Ferrari made yet another error, this time in qualifying, by sending both drivers out at the start of Q3 on intermediate tyres. For the first flying laps slicks prove to be the faster tyre and Vettel can only manage P9, after making a mistake on an increasingly greasy track having pitted for slicks (he was promoted to P6 when penalties were applied). The Mercedes comfortably locked out the front row, a second ahead of Verstappen in P3. Hamilton then led the way throughout the race, while Vettel had to make ground through the field, colliding with Verstappen, who already had a penalty for colliding with Raikkonen, with an attempted overtake into the first part of Spoon corner, spinning down to the back of the pack. Ferrari could again have opted to ask Raikkonen to slow and allow Vettel past to gain 2 points but, as in Austria, the Scuderia opted not to.

USA: Hamilton P3, Vettel P4 Hamilton -- Vettel: +70pts

The Austin GP was first race where Hamilton could mathematically have won the 2018 world title, he needed to outscore Vettel by more than 9 points (a win with Vettel in 3rd, or 5th if Vettel finished outside of the points) to have a lead of more than 75 points heading into the final three races. A 3-place grid penalty for Vettel for speeding under red flag conditions in free practice seemed to make this a foregone conclusion, however, a loss of Friday running and a pre-race increase of the minimum rear tyre pressures from Pirelli meant a lot of teams struggled with overheating rear tyres, especially Mercedes, causing blisters. Raikkonen started on the softest tyre, while the Mercedes and Vettel opted to qualify on the mid-range tyre. The softer tyre enabled Raikkonen to beat pole-man Hamilton into turn 1. Mercedes then made a mistake, calling Hamilton to the pits during an early virtual safety car period, and the blistering on the Mercedes meant Hamilton had to stop again, losing ground to Verstappen who finished second behind Raikkonen - a popular race win for F1's elder-statesman. Vettel was only able to finish P4 after a second clash and spin when attempting an overtake on a Red Bull in as many races, this time Ricciardo, but Hamilton's P3 finish meant the championship battle continued for one more race.

Mexico: Hamilton p4, Vettel p2 Hamilton -- Vettel: +64pts

Vettel needed to win in Mexico with Hamilton 8th or lower to continue the championship fight to Brazil, but for the second race of the season the Red Bull's were the dominant force. Ricciardo took pole while Verstappen led for most of the race, making it impossible for Vettel to take the championship fight further, the best he could do was finish second to leave Hamilton with an unassailable lead of 64 points with 50 left on the table.

Brazil & Abu Dhabi

Hamilton won the championship in Mexico with two races to spare, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, should Mercedes regain the upper hand on form either one of these Grands Prix could see Hamilton move aside to repay Bottas for handing him the Russian GP win. Should Bottas be victorious in either of these events all six of the drivers from Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull would have a race win in 2018, the most race winners in a season since 2012.

2018 has been a season where the competitive order has been in constant flux. Ferrari and Mercedes have often been the quickest, with Red Bull occasionally showing well but more often than not on their own as the 3rd best team. The midfield battle has been particularly interesting, with different teams having the upper hand at different circuits, but more often than not they are scrapping for the bottom half of the points.

The 2018 season has again shown F1 to be almost a two tier formula, where the top six are considerably faster than the rest of the field. On more than one occasion the fastest of the 2nd tier has been more than a lap down on the winner. For the second year in a row (so far) only one driver from outside Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull has managed a podium finish (Perez at Azerbaijan). With Mercedes reporting a spend of over $300million in 2017, just at Brackley and not counting the engine facility in Brixworth, it is unlikely this competitive order will change any time soon. Certainly not with the 2019 rule changes, which more often than not favour the richest teams.