DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
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.”