The first-corner crash at August’s Belgian Grand Prix produced one of the most dramatic images of the 2018 season. Shunted from behind by Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren was sent airborne and bounced off Charles Leclerc’s car, just centimeters from the Monégasque’s head. The incident brought focus back onto the “Halo” device — brought into F1 in 2018 for the first time — that undoubtedly prevented serious injury to Leclerc.
With Mercedes playing catch up to Ferrari’s faster car for much of 2018, Lewis Hamilton’s individual brilliance has been the decisive factor this season. Perhaps his most impressive performance came in Singapore, taking pole position with a scintillating lap in qualifying on a track where Ferrari should have been dominant. Even his teammates were left open-mouthed and he went on to take victory, marking the beginning of the end for Ferrari’s 2018 hopes.
For Ferrari, 2018 is likely to go down as the season of what might have been. Boasting the fastest car for much of the year, crucial and basic mistakes opened the door for Hamilton and Mercedes to take the title. Arguably Vettel’s personal nadir came at the German Grand Prix. Leading the way and on course for a first ever victory on home soil, a lapse in concentration saw him slide off the track and onto the gravel in wet conditions. Vettel pounded his fists on his steering wheel and had to watch on as Hamilton climbed from 14th to take an unexpected victory.
Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were forced to apologize to the entire team at their factory in Milton Keynes after a crash in Baku wiped them both out. Having already touched wheels on two occasions, the racing tension came to a head on turn one of lap 40, as Ricciardo went into the back of the Dutchman as he attempted an overtake. The FIA deemed both were to blame and furious team principle Christian Horner said: “They are both in the doghouse, you can see that in their body language.”
You can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Valtteri Bottas in 2018. Not only has the Finn been forced to watch on as teammate Hamilton took all the plaudits, he has also suffered some terrible misfortune to go all year without tasting victory. There was a last-gasp puncture in Baku which denied him a sure victory, a loss of hydraulics pressure in Austria and, undoubtedly worst of all, the team orders at the Russian Grand Prix in which he was told to move out of the way and let Hamilton pass for the win.
One of the scariest moments of 2018 came in Bahrain when an automated system failure mistakenly told Raikkonen that his pit stop had finished, causing him to run over the leg of a mechanic who was fitting a rear tire. It left Francesco Cigarini with a broken tibia and fibula, needing surgery at Bahrain’s BDF Hospital to repair the damage. Ferrari was fined €50,000 ($56,800) for the incident.
Raikkonen, one of the most loved figures on the F1 grid, tasted his first victory in 113 race starts at the US Grand Prix. It was a wait of more than five years.
This was the crash that led to the most fiery clash of 2018. As Esteban Ocon attempted to unlap himself from race leader Max Verstappen — who looked set for certain victory in Brazil — the Frenchman crashed into him, causing them both to spin out. Hamilton took full advantage and went on to win, with Verstappen finishing second. That led to the furious Dutchman confronting Ocon in the garages after the race and forcefully shoving him several times, leading the FIA to give him two days of public service.
The feel-good story of the year belongs to Robert Kubica. Just eight years after the horror rally crash that nearly killed him, it was announced the pole would return to the F1 grid with Williams next season. His injuries were so severe, they required partial amputation of his right forearm — he told Autosport he now drives “70% left-handed and 30% right.”
Fernando Alonso said farewell to F1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a brilliant career. The two-time world champion will undoubtedly go down as one of the best drivers of his generation, yet the feeling he could have achieved so much more lingers. Regardless, the Spaniard has provided F1 with some memorable moments and his presence on the grid will be missed.