Hamilton’s fifth world championship victory was his greatest, turning what looked set to be a battle that went down to the wire with Vettel into a walkover. Hamilton is a driver in perfect balance both with his own mind and the Mercedes team, showing impeccable judgement on track and outclassing his title rival in every area.
His qualifying performances were excellent, he produced two outstanding passes on Vettel at Monza and Sochi that were critical in crushing the Ferrari challenge, he was a superior race manager than Bottas, particularly when it came to the tyres, and produced relentless consistency. There were days in the past when Hamilton would go missing in races, but not anymore.
No driver is perfect and there were a few low points. In Canada and
China he struggled for pace, and a lock-up in Baku compromised his strategy. But everything is relative, and these were lows only by his standards, not compared to what we saw from the rest of the field.
Beyond that, you could argue he might have made a better fist of keeping Vettel behind him on the first lap at Spa, but he was only
“You cannot point to another driver on the grid who came as close to maximising the potential of his car week in, week out”
ahead thanks to his inspired qualifying performance in the damp in the first place, and the Ferrari was the stronger car.
You can say that Hamilton had the best car, but he played a key part in making it so and for much of the year it was nip and tuck with Ferrari.
But you cannot point to another driver on the grid who came as close to maximising the potential of his car week in, week out. His wasn’t just a great performance compared to his peers, it has to stand as one of the great seasons in terms of sustained performance, with Hamilton now having a preternatural ability to judge when to deliver a race-changing pass or stunning qualifying lap and when he just needs to let things come to him.
There were so many highlights. In the rain in Germany he flew on slicks, while in wet qualifying at the Hungaroring and Spa he turned the tables on the faster Ferrari to take pole position. His qualifying lap in Singapore was sublime, around six tenths faster than what Mercedes reckoned was possible, and he showed no inclination to relax, even subconsciously, once the title was secured by winning the final two races. He’s now a driver who knows you leave no stone unturned and give the opposition nothing, and saw the end of this season as the start of the next.
But it wasn’t just what Hamilton did that made his 2018 campaign so extraordinary, it was the way he did it. During the past 30 or so years there has been a deterioration in driving standards and a belief that you have to be utterly ruthless to prevail, but Hamilton has a genuine and heartfelt desire to win the right way. He doesn’t just have a desperate desire to win, but to win cleanly. For the many young karters who will idolise the five-time world champion, that may be an even greater legacy than the success.