After asking you to vote for your leading drivers from the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship season, the time has come to start the countdown to the driver you voted the top star of 2008.

Over the next ten weekdays, we will be revealing the top ten in reverse order, with the winner being revealed on Friday, 28 November.

More than 45,000 votes were cast in the F1 poll, with each driver's average score out of ten then being calculated to decide the winner.

F1 Driver of the Year - Fourth place:

Name: Lewis Hamilton Team: McLaren-Mercedes Car: McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23 Wins: 5 Podiums: 10 Pole positions: 7 Fastest laps: 1 Championship points: 98 Championship position: 1st

Perhaps surprisingly only fourth in the readers' poll of the best Formula 1 drivers of 2008 is newly-crowned world champion Lewis Hamilton - the youngest man ever to lift the laurels at the pinnacle of international motor racing.

That Hamilton was less impressive than he had been during the course of his rookie season in the top flight in 2007 is arguable; that he endured a mixed campaign second time around is not. For the McLaren-Mercedes star, 2008 was very much a year of peaks and troughs, and if most observers agree that the right man ultimately did clinch the crown, they are similarly unanimous that in order to do so he required more than a small degree of luck.

The 23-year-old began the season in imperious fashion, converting pole position into victory in the curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne, and history holds that more often than not, he who wins the first grand prix of the year generally goes on to win the championship too. Hamilton maintained that tradition - but boy did he make it hard work for himself.

Following his Australian success, there were four further triumphs over the remainder of the campaign, and a couple of them - Monaco and Silverstone - were quite legendary drives, and saw the Stevenage-born ace accomplish two of his boyhood dreams. Victory in front of his adoring home fans in the teeming rain of the British Grand Prix was quite possibly Hamilton's best performance of the season, as he didn't so much drive away from all of his pursuers as completely out-class them, ascending to a higher plane that nobody else came even close to attaining.

He also reached the top step of the rostrum in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim - another virtuoso showing, as McLaren's risky strategy relied heavily upon Hamilton producing a Michael Schumacher-esque series of qualifying laps in order to pull off the eventual result - and in the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, when a peerless performance left Ferrari quite literally gasping for breath.

Elsewhere, though, his season was blighted by a succession of at times inexplicable errors, most notably catastrophically running into the back of the stationary Ferrari of defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve's pit-lane during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Further precious points were lost in Japan, when what can only be described as a drastic effort to atone for a poor getaway saw Hamilton leave his braking impossibly late into the first corner at Fuji Speedway and almost decimate half the field in the process.

Bahrain was another example of a lack of clear thinking, when after being demoted on the grid the 2006 GP2 Series Champion clattered into the back of sworn rival and former team-mate Fernando Alonso on only lap two, going on to take the chequered flag an unlucky but perhaps appropriate 13th.

There were also snipes from a number of other drivers in the wake of his robust driving style in fighting his way up through the order in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and some believe Robert Kubica un-lapping himself from Hamilton in the closing stages of the final race of the season in Brazil - in so doing very nearly costing the Briton the trophy - was a way of teaching him a lesson that such behaviour will not be tolerated in the future, and that his rivals are every bit as willing to play hard and aggressive in return.

Indeed, Hamilton's drive at Interlagos appeared at times to be not so much cautious as indifferent, as he wrapped up the laurels in somewhat ignominious fashion, only moving into the fifth place he so desperately needed two corners from home at the expense of Timo Glock's ailing Toyota. One lap fewer and the nine-time grand prix winner would not have been world champion, but then equally, had he not been controversially stripped of a sensational victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps two months earlier, he would not have needed to worry in S?o Paulo at all.

The right man did ultimately win, then - just - but if Lewis Hamilton is to successfully defend his crown in 2009, he can ill afford to be as inconsistent again.

Tomorrow: Who did you vote third in the Driver of the Year poll?


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