2018 was billed as a showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel as they vied to win a fifth world title. Vettel began the season by winning the opening two races and the Ferrari was the quickest car for much of the year, but it was Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz that prevailed once more.
The Englishman combined excellent qualifying with relentless speed and consistency on raceday to ease to 11 victories and a dominant title as Ferrari’s season unraveled. In contrast, Vettel made too many mistakes including crashing out of the lead in Germany. Vettel’s win in Belgium appeared to restore championship momentum but he did not win again.
Valtteri Bottas was on course for victories in Azerbaijan and Russia but for a puncture and Mercedes team orders to intervene. Fifth in the final standings represented a disappointing return from a campaign in Hamilton’s shadow. Kimi Räikkönen scored his first victory in over five years and finished third overall after a consistent final season with Ferrari.
Red Bull remained the third best team on the grid for whom Max Verstappen recovered from a frustrating opening six events to win in Austria and Mexico and clinch fourth in the championship. The chance of a third victory was lost when he crashed with lapped Esteban Ocon in Brazil, an incident that prompted a post-race scuffle. Daniel Ricciardo passed Bottas to win in China and managed mechanical issues to score an emotional victory in Monaco but indifferent qualifying performances and reliability all too often restricted results. The team’s nadir came in Azerbaijan when Verstappen and Ricciardo crashed into each other during the race.
Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg was regularly the best-of-the-rest behind these three teams but a first podium finish remained elusive. Kevin Magnussen enjoyed his most successful Formula 1 season to date, although the Haas driver’s robust tactics were criticized by many.
Force India were acquired by the Racing Point consortium in the summer and previous constructors points were annulled as a consequence. The highlight for the team came in Azerbaijan where Sergio Pérez came third – the only time a driver from outside the top three teams finished on the podium. Team-mate Ocon scored four sixth places but ended the year without a drive.
McLaren continued to struggle despite switching from Honda to Renault engines. Still among the best drivers in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso out-performed his machinery but looked to Le Mans for his chance of further glory. Toro Rosso assumed the role of Honda’s works team while Williams endured a sad campaign at the back of the field. Charles Leclerc enjoyed an impressive rookie campaign as the Ferrari-powered Sauber team improved. He finished sixth in Baku and completed an error-free season regularly in the points.
The FIA introduced the controversial “halo” cockpit protection structure which was hailed as having saved Leclerc from injury in the first corner accident at Spa-Francorchamps. For the first time in F1 history, there were no mid-season driver changes and all 20 drivers at least scored a point.