Few would have thought after the opening rounds that the 2018 Formula 1 title fight would be done and dusted with two races to spare, but a supreme run in the second half of the campaign enabled Lewis Hamilton to seal his fifth world championship crown.

The feat was achieved at the Mexican Grand Prix, as Hamilton ended Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes before the completion of the season in a year that has seen the pendulum of momentum see-saw between the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers.

Both Hamilton and Vettel exchanged positions at the top of the standings numerous times but ultimately it was the Briton who prevailed to move level with Juan Manuel Fangio and within touching distance of all-time record holder Michael Schumacher.

6 reasons why F1 needs Lewis Hamilton | Crash.net

Vettel’s perfect start

Vettel wiped Hamilton’s smile away by turning around a 0.7s deficit in qualifying to take victory in Melbourne, after a miscalculation under a Virtual Safety Car period cost Hamilton and Mercedes.

The German went on to make it back-to-back wins in Bahrain to take a perfect score from the opening two races and ensure Ferrari made its strongest start to a season since 2004, while Hamilton was forced into a recovery drive after picking up a grid drop for taking on a new gearbox - leaving him with a 17-point deficit and some early work to do. 

All was looking so good for Vettel and Ferrari at this stage…

Signs of weakness

A Ferrari front-row lockout in China - a circuit Mercedes had dominated in recent years - proved the Scuderia’s promising prospects had real substance. Things didn’t quite go to plan in the race as Vettel dropped behind Valtteri Bottas and was later turned around by Max Verstappen in an incident he could do very little about.

Despite a disappointing eighth-place finish, Vettel’s early points lead remained intact from Hamilton as Daniel Ricciardo made the most of a brilliant strategy gamble from Red Bull to become the second different winner of the year.

Next time out in Baku - the scene of Vettel’s red-mist moment from the previous season - would mark his first error of the campaign. Having dominated the race from pole position, Vettel looked comfortable in Azerbaijan until a late Safety Car turned the race on its head.

Vettel ended up behind Bottas on track and attempted a lunge to reclaim the lead, only to lock up his brakes, run wide, and lose a position to Hamilton. The failed overtake proved a major missed opportunity as Bottas went on to suffer a race-ending puncture one lap later, opening the door for Hamilton to take an unlikely first win of the season.

Hamilton moved into the lead of the championship by completing a dominant lights-to-flag victory in Spain, while Vettel hit back with brilliant wins in Canada and Silverstone to return to the top of the standings following F1’s first-ever triple-header, despite a clumsy collision with Bottas at the start of the French Grand Prix.

Home horror at Hockenheim

The championship looked to be swinging back towards Ferrari leaving Silverstone, after Mercedes had suffered a rare double DNF in Austria prior to Hamilton’s first defeat on home soil since 2013.

Things appeared even rosier for Vettel in Germany when he was cruising towards victory on home soil, with Hamilton pulling off a second fightback through the field in as many races after a hydraulic leak in qualifying left him only 14th on the Hockenheim grid.

However, a late rain shower set off a chain of events that led to Vettel’s calamitous downfall as he crashed out from the lead in slippery conditions - in what was arguably the major turning point of the season. Hamilton took full advantage to pull off a remarkable victory, one he later credited “divine intervention” for. The end result was a momentous points swing in his favour.

The weather gods intervened once more in Hungary as rain fell during qualifying to set a surprise grid headed by Hamilton in a Mercedes car that had struggled to match the Ferrari in dry conditions. Hamilton capitalised on track position to secure his fifth win of the campaign, leaving him with a 24-point buffer heading into the summer break and most in the paddock scratching their heads at how Ferrari and Vettel were not leading the championship.

Ferrari’s Monza meltdown

Vettel responded in perfect fashion with a convincing victory in Belgium ane Ferrari once again looked to hold the superior package over Mercedes in Italy, with the team securing another front-row lockout, this time headed by Kimi Raikkonen.

Tensions appeared to be mounting behind the scenes at the Maranello squad heading into race day, with Vettel irked at Ferrari’s Q3 tactics that ended up with him inadvertently handing his teammate an all-important tow on his way to pole.

Ferrari did not enforce team orders at the start – as some had predicted – and Vettel, in his desperation to snatch the lead from Raikkonen, came under attack from Hamilton, who pulled off a superb move around the outside of the Variante della Roggia that left Vettel spinning to the rear of the pack.

A relentless race-long battle for the lead between Hamilton and Raikkonen ultimately went in Hamilton’s favour as he passed the Finn late on to further extend his advantage over Vettel, who turned in a strong recovery to fourth despite a significant amount of damage to the floor of his Ferrari.

Hamilton’s Singapore sling

Singapore was picked as the defining moment of the season by Vettel following his title defeat to Hamilton in Mexico, while Channel 4 pundit Eddie Jordan had labelled the weekend’s result as a “big dagger in the heart of Ferrari” following the conclusion of the race.

The race had been billed as a must-win for Ferrari given Mercedes’ fears of a struggle but Hamilton clearly hadn’t read the script. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hamilton produced a sensational lap he later described as “magic” to outpace Vettel by half a second under the lights in qualifying.

Hamilton went on to seal a comfortable win as Vettel lost further ground to the Briton in what was fast-becoming a key period of the season, and one that would ultimately lay the foundations of his title triumph. 

Vettel spins, Hamilton wins

A wrong development route - introduced in Singapore in a bid to increase downforce and greater performance - hindered Ferrari’s pace in Russia and Japan as it slipped behind Mercedes.

Hamilton passed Vettel en route to another victory in Russia - a result overshadowed by Mercedes’ controversial use of team orders by instructing Bottas to give up a position to his teammate - before he dominated proceedings in Japan to score his fourth consecutive win.

In the same race Vettel found himself tangling with Verstappen in an attempt to recover through the field after Ferrari made a tyre error during a sudden rain shower during qualifying.

A grid drop for failing to slow sufficiently under a red flag period in practice put Vettel on the back foot again in the United States Grand Prix, as he clashed with the other Red Bull of Ricciardo and was forced into another recovery effort.

Sealing the deal

After taking pole and seeing Vettel only fifth on the grid, Hamilton looked well-placed to clinch the championship in Austin, though things didn’t quite go to plan on race day for Mercedes.

Hamilton was jumped by Raikkonen at the start and despite his best efforts, was unable to find a way past Verstappen and Raikkonen during a three-way battle for the lead after committing to a two-stop strategy.

A fourth-place finish for Vettel delayed ultimately acted as little more than putting Hamilton’s title celebrations on hold for one more week.

Mexico proved to be a “bittersweet” race for Mercedes, with the team suffering one of its worst performances of the season amid severe tyre degradation problems, though fourth place was good enough for Hamilton to wrap up the title in Mexico City with two races to spare for the second successive year.