Formula 1 in 2018: Who was the best driver? Which was the best race? Who made the worst mistake?

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The 2018 Formula 1 season finished with a race of limited excitement, but managed to echo some of the themes of the season.

Lewis Hamilton was just too good for his rivals, even in less-than-straightforward circumstances, Sebastian Vettel was just not quite quick enough to challenge.

The second Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was underwhelming. And Max Verstappen slipped ahead of the Finn into fourth place in the championship with a drive combining the maturity and speed he has generally shown in the second half of the season - the odd pit-lane fracas aside - and which is marking him out as champion of the future.

As the season begins to fade in the rear-view mirror, here is a reflection on some of the highlights and low-lights of a long but fascinating year.

Best drive

Hamilton at Monza

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel make contact on the first lap of the Italian GP in Monza
Hamilton and Vettel made contact at the second chicane on the first lap at Monza, damaging the Ferrari's front wing

He heaped the pressure on Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel on the first lap from third on the grid. When Vettel left space on the outside approaching the second chicane, Hamilton went for it and pulled a clean pass, while Vettel clattered into the side of him and spun away his chances.

After that, Hamilton chased Raikkonen closely until the first stops. Raikkonen stopped first, pushed too hard on his tyres for too long - unnecessarily, as he had a pit stop's advantage very soon - and blistered them.

After his later stop, Hamilton hunted him down and took the lead with eight laps to go. "You are the man, you are the man," Hamilton's engineer Peter Bonnington said over the radio after the victory. "You knocked that out of the park today." He wasn't wrong.

Best lap

Hamilton's Singapore pole

Lewis Hamilton Singapore qualifying
Hamilton said career pole number 79 was "like a dance - awesome."

On a track where Mercedes have traditionally struggled, after being questioned for jetting around the world in the days before the race to launch his fashion collection, the world champion produced a lap that left his team's jaws on the floor, and briefly in stunned silence.

"Lewis, this is Toto," team boss Toto Wolff said on the radio at the end of qualifying. "This was the most epic lap I have ever seen around here."

It was run close by another stupendous effort at the season-opening race in Australia - more than 0.6s clear of the field.

Best race

Italian Grand Prix

Italian GP
The Tifosi has no choice but to applaud the the Mercedes man on top of the podium in September

This felt like an old-school race, as close to flat-out as possible, and a driver producing a special performance and two super overtaking moves to move from third to a victory. It was key to the championship - but also symbolic of the superiority of Hamilton and Mercedes as driver and race team over a season on which Ferrari arguably had the faster car more often than not.

Best chassis

Red Bull. Give them the power of a Mercedes or Ferrari engine and they would at the very least have been right there at the front all the time and quite possibly ahead. They had a mid-season dip but the car came on strongly in a late-season surge. If new partner Honda can deliver the goods next year, Max Verstappen could go toe to toe with Hamilton and Vettel. And how exciting would that be?

Best engine

It was close - but Ferrari just takes it from Mercedes, who spent most of the year chasing to catch up, after spending most of the hybrid era in front.

Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain
Ferrari and Vettel opened the season with back-to-back wins in Australia and Bahrain

Best car

Close call, this. On average one-lap pace, the Mercedes was 0.124secs faster, but how much of that was down to Hamilton? Ferrari arguably had a faster car than Mercedes for at least half the races, if not more, but they got in a technical fog in the autumn before recovering. Hamilton's impeccable driving in his best-ever season and Mercedes' operational advantage over Ferrari tipped the balance. Let's call it a draw.

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Merit award for the best driver performance after Hamilton

Fernando Alonso

It must have hurt this great champion to have been saddled with donkeys for the final five years of his career but he has never lost his fighting spirit.

In the second-worst car on the grid - and it was arguably the worst at several races in the second half of the season - he produced his usual consistent excellence. Not only did he finish only 19 points off the winner of the B-class championship, but he helped McLaren to a totally undeserved sixth place in the constructors.

His drive in Baku was a masterpiece. His car damaged badly on the first lap, he hauled it to a seventh-place finish. What a driver he has been.

Best pound-for-pound car

Haas finished finished fifth in the constructors' and had the fifth fastest car with probably the second smallest budget. But there are still too many questions about the advantages their close relationship with Ferrari brings. They buy as many parts as they allowed to under the rules from Ferrari - everything bar the monocoque and aerodynamic surfaces - and the car is designed in the Ferrari wind tunnel.

Given that, Force India take it. They started the year in massive financial trouble, collapsed into administration mid-season, yet still had fifth fastest car. Lost all their points when they were reconstituted as a new team for the last nine races and yet still finished seventh in the championship. Mega effort.

Worst mistake

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German GP: 'Vettel's binned it!'

No contest here. Sebastian Vettel crashing out of the lead of his home German Grand Prix was not only highly embarrassing and the sort of error a beginner should not make, let alone a four-time world champion, but it handed a victory to Hamilton and meant a 32-point swing in the title race from which Vettel and Ferrari never recovered.

Best overtake

Daniel Ricciardo wins in China
The move on Bottas alone was worthy of a shoey for Ricciardo in China

Daniel Ricciardo's pass of Valtteri Bottas for the lead in China was right on the edge, not only in terms of how late he braked, but in terms of balancing risk versus reward. Ricciardo has made this something of a trademark - he took his first win this way back in Hungary in 2014 - but this was possibly the best yet.

Best decision

Ferrari taking Charles Leclerc for 2019. The Monegasque started his debut season billed as a star of the future and, after a briefly shaky start, he absolutely lived up to it. Leclerc was sensational - there is no other word for it. He put in a series of superb races, crushed team-mate Marcus Ericsson, and won praise from all the top drivers. Yes, there were a few mistakes here and there, but it is to be expected in a driver's first season. His battle with Vettel next year is a mouth-watering prospect.

Biggest improvement

Charles Leclerc in Brazil
Sauber finished the season eighth in the constructors' championship

Sauber started the year having already improved - catching up to the pack after being last by far last year. But they made quite remarkable progress through the season. Second slowest team in the first half of the year, they were sixth quickest in the second half, and regular top 10 contenders. They closed on Mercedes by 0.4secs over the course of the year. It will be interesting to see whether they can keep the progress up now that Leclerc has left.

Biggest disappointment

If your team-mate wins 11 races and the world championship and you finish fifth having not taken a single victory, you know it has not been a good year.

To be fair, Bottas was unlucky. He was leading in China before a mid-race safety car allowed Red Bull to fit fresh tyres and leave the Finn defenceless against Ricciardo. He would have won in Baku were it not for a puncture, and he was forced to hand victory to Hamilton in Russia to maximise the team's title chances.

Team boss Toto Wolff explained his slump from mid-summer as being partially down to the inevitable dip in motivation after being told he could not fight for the title.

Wolff said on Sunday that Bottas had told him he wanted to "go back home, recharge the battery, recover and recuperate and then come back. It's just been a very long one."

He starts next year under severe pressure - knowing that Esteban Ocon is waiting in the wings as reserve driver and that Wolff has to decide between them when he picks Hamilton's team-mate for 2020.

Vladimir Putin, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton at the Russian GP
Sorry mate: Team orders led to Bottas missing out on a victory in Russia

Best quote

Ricciardo, for saying after beating team-mate Max Verstappen to pole in Mexico that he was "tripping major nutsack right now".

The latest in a series of highly individual and very funny comments from a man who carries himself with a lightness and relaxation very rare in Grand Prix drivers, and yet drives like a tiger. Or honey badger, as he prefers.

At the next race in Brazil, he explained: "I remembered the podium that got taken from me in Melbourne (in 2014), I said I was tripping balls. And it is an evolution of tripping balls. I may have said it around friends before, I don't know, but it just came to me. I say some spontaneous stuff sometimes. That was certainly one of them. Did you like it?"

There were some other classics from Ricciardo, too. "Sometimes you've just go to lick the stamp and send it," he said, explaining his move on Bottas in China.

At the other end of the spectrum, Vettel's "we speak after" when he was told team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had stolen pole from him at Ferrari's home race, which Vettel knew was because the Finn had been in his tow, was a masterpiece of hidden meaning.

Daniel Ricciardo
Will Ricciardo still give us value for money at Renault next year?

Biggest panic

Vettel again, for his crazed communication with his mechanics over the radio when he stopped to change tyres in a wet qualifying session in Belgium.

"Stop, stop," he shouted. "You will crash the floor. Basta (enough). Lift the car. You are scratching the floor, you are scratching the floor."

In its own way, it said a lot about the pressure Vettel was feeling driving for a team that was making mistakes that made their attempt to unseat Mercedes much harder.

Worst decision

Ferrari F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen
Ferrari claimed their first front-row lockout at Monza since 1994 - except it was Raikkonen, not Vettel, who claimed pole

Ferrari, for sending their cars out in the 'wrong' order in qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix.

With Vettel needing all the help he could get in his title battle with Hamilton, Ferrari mystifyingly chose to allow the German to run in front of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, giving the Finn the benefit of a tow worth 0.35secs. Raikkonen took pole by 0.161secs.

This directly led to the first lap, when the two red cars raced each other, Hamilton passed Vettel and Vettel spun, losing further ground in the championship as Hamilton won a race Ferrari should have finished one-two.

Red mist moment

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Perez hits Sirotkin after being held up by the Russian

Force India's Sergio Perez seemed to lose focus for two hours in the heat and humidity of Singapore. He drove his team-mate Esteban Ocon into the wall at the start and then, after spending a number of laps stuck behind Sergey Sirotkin's Williams, drove into the side of the Russian's car when he was finally about to get past.

He said both moves were accidental, and we have to take him at his word, but there were some who weren't so sure.

Most underperforming car

McLaren
At least the papaya orange livery looked smart

The Williams was the slowest car of the season, but this has to go to McLaren. Following a switch from Honda to Renault engines, they started the season with ambitions of challenging Red Bull but had the rudest of awakenings.

The car was truly terrible. The only positive was that it at least made them realise how far they had fallen, and started a restructuring process. But they admit it will take years before they can expect to compete regularly at the front again.

Most disappointing race

Singapore or Mexico. They were the worst examples of excessive tyre management, drivers lapping seconds off their maximum potential to keep tyres alive for required stint lengths. This is not racing as most people would understand it, and it needs to be sorted out in the future.