Lewis Hamilton’s fifth Formula One title was a mere reward for his outstanding form, and his excellence helped secure Mercedes with their fifth consecutive constructors' title.
With the race year now at a close, it means VAVEL UK's F1 2018 season awards can commence.
Hero - Fernando Alonso
Matthew Watkinson: It has been a difficult year for Fernando Alonso and McLaren who have found themselves rounding off the season as one of 2018’s slowest cars. The Spaniard has gone above and beyond what all thought his troubled McLaren was capable of and has solidified his status as one of the greatest drivers on the grid.
Alonso has set his sights on the motorsport ‘triple crown’ and after years of racing in Formula 1, the Spaniard has ended his tenure in the sport and he will no doubt be remembered as one of the elite drivers in modern times. He clinched victory in Le Mans earlier this year meaning he is one away from winning the unofficial title, with the Indy 500 last to check off the list.
At the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton joined the double World Champion in giving back to the fans in the form of doughnuts on the main straight. The Spaniard oozes class and over the years he has earned respect from his racing counterparts, with the Abu Dhabi doughnuts representing his iconic stature in the sport.
The 37-year-old has teased Formula 1 fans, hinting at a potential involvement in the sport at a later date. Though for now, it’s an emotional farewell to the Spaniard whose illustrious career has had such an impact on Formula 1.
Villain - Sebastian Vettel
Jaquob Crooke: Vettel’s title charge was numbed by a list of catastrophic errors, which saw the highly-anticipated championship battle sizzle out into a Hamilton procession.
The manner in which Vettel conceded defeat was very uncharacteristic of the four-time World Champion’s ability. The errors shouldn’t distract you from the fact that Vettel was still scintillatingly quick - the German consistently outperformed team-mate Kimi Raikkonen over the course of the campaign. But, in arguably the quicker car to Hamilton, and under greater scrutiny, there is the looming sense of unfulfillment in Vettel’s season.
The turning point was the German Grand Prix, which will haunt both him and his Ferrari team.
After beating Hamilton in his own backyard a week before, Vettel eased out in front of an adoring capacity crowd at Hockenheim, with his rival starting 14th following a hydraulic issue in qualifying. Vettel dominated for 50 laps before a heavy downpour altered the complexion of the championship, and the German was punished heavily by braking late into the Sachskurve and sliding off into the barriers. Hamilton went onto win the race and ultimately, the title.
Prior to that, Vettel had naively wiped out Valtteri Bottas at the French Grand Prix, but the list of accidents did not stop there as the Ferrari driver had costly collisions in Italy, Japan and finally in the USA, where he tangled with Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap.
Best team - Mercedes
JC: Mercedes have more often than not found themselves being untouchable since the dawn of the V6 turbo-hybrid era. However this year, with their backs against the wall, they have come out fighting to achieve arguably their sweetest championship to date.
Hamilton could only echo words of praise for his team, who dealt with their mid-season woes with extraordinary resolve and took their performance to another level – one that Ferrari could not compete with.
Toto Wolff’s rallying email before Spa instilled a new hunger within his ranks, and a highlight of their substantial improvement was in Singapore. Often a circuit of damage limitation for Mercedes, Hamilton produced an exceptional qualifying lap before cruising to his fourth win at Marina Bay.
Honourable mentions go out to Red Bull and Sauber. The RB14 proved to be a mean machine in the final third of the season and they will be a force to be reckoned with when making the switch to Honda power. Sauber’s new affiliation with Alfa Romeo begun ponderously, but the team soon unlocked the true potential of their package and with the talent of Charles Leclerc, they were able to score some excellent points finishes.
Best race - Baku
JC: Unsurprisingly, Baku produced yet another thrilling spectacle at the start of the year. With Vettel leading the way, the Ferrari driver looked to be coasting to his third win of the campaign. But in classic Azerbaijan fashion, the two Red Bull’s locked horns at the end of the pit straight and crashed out of the race, resulting in the safety car being deployed.
Bottas and his Mercedes team took full advantage of the unravelling situation to take the lead. At the restart, Vettel made a desperate lunge down into turn one and by doing so the German ran wide, dropping down the pecking order in the process.
Just a lap later, Bottas’ hopes of victory were tarnished as he suffered a puncture after running over debris. It handed the win to his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who held off the charging Raikkonen, but also ensured there were wild celebrations in the Force India garage as Sergio Perez secured the only non ‘Big Three’ podium of the 2018 campaign.
Surprise package - Charles Leclerc
MW: Leclerc has burst onto the scene this term and the Monegasque has impressed on his debut season in Formula 1. The process of moving from Formula 2 to Formula 1 has been seamless for the 21-year-old who settled into Sauber very quickly. The rookie was handed an opportunity at Alfa Romeo Sauber and it’s a chance he grabbed with both hands.
After several high point scoring finishes including a remarkable 6th place finish in Baku, he earned himself a dream move to the prancing horses to partner four-time World Champion Vettel, where many are even suggesting the talented Monegasque could challenge the German next year. His Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson couldn’t keep up with the rookie, as Leclerc set out to prove his worth.
The newly named Ferrari driver is already getting comfortable in his new car, beating teammate Vettel by four tenths in the opening session of testing in Abu Dhabi – as early preparations begin for the highly anticipated 2019 Formula 1 season.
Leclerc has had such a promising opening to his Formula 1 career, but you feel he is only just getting started as he gears up for the 2019 season.