DRIVER OF THE YEAR

Lewis Hamil­ton Mercedes

F1 Racing (UK) - - AWARDS 2018 -

Which state­ment is more ac­cu­rate? Did Lewis Hamil­ton win the 2018 driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship? Or did Se­bas­tian Vet­tel lose it? You could ar­gue that Vet­tel’s costly mis­takes (as many as nine can be listed) such as the lock-up in Baku, slid­ing off the road in Ger­many, and hit­ting Valt­teri Bot­tas on the first lap at Paul Ri­card, meant Lewis Hamil­ton’s fifth driv­ers’ ti­tle was pretty much served up to him on a plat­ter.

But this would over­look Hamil­ton’s bril­liant driv­ing across the sea­son. Dur­ing such a high-pres­sure cam­paign, per­haps the most im­pres­sive as­pect is that Hamil­ton made no se­ri­ous er­rors. The last time he made con­tact with a wall was in Brazil the pre­vi­ous year.

Even dur­ing early off-days in China and Azer­bai­jan, when he was strug­gling with his tyres, Hamil­ton still picked up a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of points. Then there were the days when he was un­stop­pable, scor­ing an un­likely win at Monza af­ter go­ing wheel to wheel with his ti­tle ri­val; stay­ing on the road and win­ning in treach­er­ous con­di­tions in Ger­many; and dom­i­nat­ing races in Sin­ga­pore and Ja­pan.

Toto Wolff said of Hamil­ton’s fourth ti­tle win with Mercedes that this year he had driven bet­ter than ever. Michael Schu­macher’s cham­pi­onship record and win tally are now in Lewis’s sights, and it’s no stretch of the imag­i­na­tion to think he could even eclipse them.

The fi­nal award that F1 Rac­ing makes ev­ery year can­not be mea­sured by sta­tis­tics or speed. The Spirit of F1 Award is for that one in­di­vid­ual who has shown great courage in try­ing cir­cum­stances, some­one who con­tin­ues to strive to achieve their best in a sport­ing man­ner against the odds.

Both Valt­teri Bot­tas and Daniel Ricciardo were strong con­tenders for the award this year. Bot­tas came so close to vic­tory in Baku and could eas­ily have led the cham­pi­onship in the early part of the sea­son, but in­creas­ingly had to yield to his team­mate and was dubbed a ‘wing­man’. Ricciardo, too, con­tin­ued to smile de­spite his car’s ap­palling re­li­a­bil­ity. In Mex­ico it was enough for him to la­bel his RB14 “cursed”.

This year, Este­ban Ocon is the re­cip­i­ent of our spe­cial award. Com­ing from an or­di­nary back­ground, he has fought his way to the top by prov­ing his nat­u­ral tal­ent at ev­ery turn, earn­ing his place in man­u­fac­turer sup­port pro­grammes, first at Lo­tus then Mercedes. By mid-sea­son, as Force In­dia went into ad­min­is­tra­tion, Lawrence Stroll stepped in to buy the team. His son, Lance Stroll, then be­came a shoo-in for Ocon’s seat in 2019 along­side Ser­gio Pérez. Ocon em­barked upon the fi­nal races of 2018 know­ing his op­tions were lim­ited. On so­cial me­dia, Ocon quelled a tirade of Stroll abuse from fans, call­ing on them to show re­spect and point­ing out that, de­spite their dif­fer­ent back­grounds, he and Stroll were united in their pas­sion for driv­ing.

Este­ban de­serves praise and recog­ni­tion for his grace and courage, all re­gard­less of what hap­pened on track in Brazil.

“The driver of the year award is im­por­tant – and thank you again to the fans who voted for me – be­cause I guess you want to be that one all-round driver and there are a lot of oth­ers to choose from who have all had good or great in­di­vid­ual per­for­mances this sea­son. From my point of view my sea­son has been higher than ever be­fore, so I ap­pre­ci­ate the recog­ni­tion.”

“The way that I’ve ap­proached this year has al­ways been pos­i­tive – there is much worse in life that can hap­pen. Be­ing here, in this fan­tas­tic world in For­mula 1, rac­ing with the best cars, the best driv­ers in the world is a great place to be – and so I can’t com­plain. I’ve met some good peo­ple over the years and I’m en­joy­ing the work I’m do­ing. My goal is still to be world cham­pion one day, so I won’t give up on any­thing I do.”

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