Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Abu Dhabi marked the end of the 2018 Formula 1 championship.
It’s been a one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory, with thrilling races, a tight battle at the top of the championship standings and talented young drivers making their debuts.
Hamilton and Mercedes may have official glory, but – in a season where the midfield provided just as much, if not more, of the entertainment than the battle at the front of the field – that doesn’t tell the entire story of the season.
Here are our 2018 Formula 1 awards.
Most improved team
In just its third season in Formula 1, Haas emerged as one of the midfield’s leading teams. More often than not, the battle for “best of the rest” was as exciting (if not more exciting) as the fight for the overall race lead, and Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were usually a part of that, with Grosjean even managing a P4 in Austria. The team lagged behind Renault early in the season, but were able to find improvements, solve problems, and bring the fight to the manufacturer team. It may have finished behind Renault in the championship standings, but Haas has earned out “most improved team” award.
Most improved driver
It may not have been enough to earn a 2019 seat, but Brendon Hartley showed clear improvement over the course of his brief Formula 1 career. The endurance racing champion struggled in the first half of the season, often barely able to make it to the first corner without an incident. By the summer break, he’d taken a total of two points. Hartley’s points total would only double by the end of the year, but he was much more competitive once rumours about his replacement had become impossible to ignore. He was able to challenge – and occasionally beat – his Red Bull bound team-mate.
Sometimes, you just have to lick a stamp and send it! Daniel Ricciardo isn’t really overstating his impact on F1 when he said he’s changed overtaking. Late lunges have now become synonymous with the Australian driver, and it’s one such late move that’s worthy of the accolade of best overtake. Ricciardo had already made one impressive overtake on Valtteri Bottas earlier in the race, but his best move of the season came for the lead of the Chinese Grand Prix. Bottas gave him just enough space to make the pass, with Ricciardo well and truly embodying Senna’s “if you no longer go for a gap” quote.
Mercedes has to earn the award for best team of the year. For the first time since 2013, Mercedes didn’t start the season with the best car. That was Ferrari. But Mercedes didn’t sit back and let the Italian stable end its domination – or simply wait for Ferrari to trip over itself. The reigning teams’ champion continued to work and develop. Mercedes really earned its fifth consecutive constructors’ championship, and it earned its place as best team of the season.
This time last year, if anybody had said a rookie in a Sauber was going to be fighting at the front of the midfield, they would be deemed crazy, yet here we are. Charles Leclerc stunned fans and teams alike in 2018. He regularly out performed his much more experienced team-mate and was able to do battle with the best of the midfield. There’s a reason many expect him to be able to beat his four-time champion team-mate next season and challenge Lewis Hamilton for the title. There’s a reason he’s the first Ferrari Driver Academy member to be promoted to the senior team. Leclerc was the best rookie this year, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he turned out to be the best overall driver next year.
Lewis Hamilton’s season was far from perfect, but that might just have added to his performance in 2018. In the first half of the year, he was on the backfoot. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were surprisingly competitive, and it looked like he might just have a battle on his hands. Even so, Hamilton brought the fight to Ferrari, taking advantage of any chance he got. Then the tide turned in Mercedes’ favour and Hamilton was able to truly dominate. He outperformed his team-mate, outperformed his title rival (scoring 71 points more than Vettel in the second half of the season) and probably outperformed his car in the first half of the year. In Vettel’s words, Hamilton deserved the 2018 title.