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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Why 2018 was the best of Lewis Hamilton's Formula One world titles

A look at how the Briton held off the challenge of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to win a fifth drivers' championship

Lewis Hamilton is only the third driver to win five championships in Formula One. Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton is only the third driver to win five championships in Formula One. Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton arrived in the UAE this week ahead of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday with his primary piece of business for the year already achieved.

He became only the third driver, after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, to win five world titles when he sealed the 2018 championship in Mexico in October.

This weekend will be a celebration for the Briton as he not only reflects on not just ending the year as champion again, but arguably doing so with his best season of driving yet.

That is not to deride his previous four championship-winning years, but 2018 is likely to be looked at as the year Hamilton established as a great, not just statistically, but on the track.

Belief

Hamilton is the first driver since Schumacher in 2003 to not win any of the first three races and still be champion.

It has not always gone Hamilton’s way in 2018. The team have often not been the quickest at races, with Ferrari and Red Bull Racing proving to be formidable rivals.

But, Hamilton has rarely shown any negativity outside the car. Sure, there is still the occasional outburst and desperate comment on the pit radio, such as in Austria in June when a tactical blunder wrecked his race hopes, but he has matured and become a more seasoned driver.

He did not panic in the early days of the season when Sebastian Vettel won three of the first seven races.

He did not over celebrate when he was successful and he is arguably the most complete driver on the grid now.

If Vettel had Hamilton’s level of maturity then the 2018 title fight could have been very different.

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A rapid speed

At the heart of things is the fact Hamilton remains arguably, on raw pace, the fastest driver in F1.

His qualifying pace remains greatly impressive and there were a number of races, including Britain, Belgium, Singapore and the United States where he took pole positions when he was the clear difference maker.

Mercedes-GP have rarely had it their own way in 2018 with Ferrari often quicker then them, while Red Bull Racing have had their most consistent season of form since the move to the V6 turbo engines in 2014.

But Hamilton still has scored the most poles of anyone this season, with 10 to his name, and starting at the front has allowed him to control a number of key races.

His pole in Singapore, which was almost 0.7 seconds faster then the lap of teammate Valtteri Bottas to highlight the difference he brought to things, was one of the great pole laps in F1.

Taking his chances

There were weekends when Ferrari had a pace advantage, yet it was Hamilton who came away with the successes.

Some of that was fortunate. It is questionable if he would have won in Germany without the rain arriving in the closing laps and then the wet stuff again hitting the track in qualifying in Hungary.

Likewise, if Ferrari’s drivers had not botched their tactics at the start of the Italian Grand Prix they would not have left him space to attack them.

But, in every case Hamilton exploited the opening given to him and made full use of it.

It is all well and good saying the weather played into his favour in Germany and Hungary but he still had to be effectively perfect in challenging conditions, which he was.

He easily could have spun in Italy as he tussled with Vettel after the Ferrari left him space around the outside. But it was the German who lost control, not him, and he went on to win.

It is those little moments that can define a season and Hamilton took every chance that came his way and that is why he deserves to be champion.

Being consistent

Hamilton was not always at his best, or had the car hooked up to his liking.

But even if things were not always clicking, like in China, Azerbaijan and Canada, he kept himself out of trouble and scored the points he could.

No over driving or taking silly risks that could gain maybe an extra couple of points, but easily end up losing everything on a particular day.

His worst finish, excluding Austria where he retired with mechanical failure, was fifth.

Consistency wins championships. He has won 10 times, but scored good points in nine other races and he has made fewer errors then Vettel so that is why he is the champion and the German is not.

Team player

Hamilton’s bond with Mercedes is clear. His, largely, affectionate chats with his race engineer Pete Bonnington on the pit radio highlight a level of trust that has developed over the years.

It was clear that Hamilton knows the role Mercedes have played in his success.

After winning in Brazil earlier this month he knelt down and almost embraced his car as the German marque celebrated becoming only the second team to ever win five constructors’ titles in a row.

Schumacher, the only driver now more successful then Hamilton statistically in terms of championships with seven to his name, was renown for building up an environment at Ferrari where the team bond helped them through some tight spots during his era of success with them between 1996 and 2006.

This has been the same at Mercedes and Hamilton has to be credited for playing a part in that.

So, what is next for the man with 72 race wins and 81 poles to his name?

He and Mercedes cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

Ferrari, given the raw pace of their car, underachieved this season and they should be a force again next year.

Plus Hamilton should face two consistent threats from the Italian team, rather then one, with Charles Leclerc an upgrade on Kimi Raikkonen as Vettel’s partner.

But, Hamilton’s experience means that if the Mercedes is quick, as it should be, 2019 will be another season of success.

But, first will come the target of winning in Abu Dhabi for a record fourth time and signing off his best year yet in style.