A look at the key moments of the season and how Lewis Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel in their quest to beat the other man to a fifth world championship this year -- and the sequence of events which helped the former wrap it up with two races still to spare.
Early advantage Vettel
Winter testing left little doubt in people's minds: Ferrari had a very competitive race car for 2018. However, the Australian Grand Prix appeared to sow some doubt about how close the season would be, with Lewis Hamilton claiming a comfortable pole position on the Saturday. Afterwards, he joked to Vettel that he had enjoyed "wiping the smile off your face".
But it would be Vettel smiling on Sunday afternoon, as a Mercedes strategy blunder handed Ferrari the opening victory of the season. Mercedes had misjudged an ill-timed Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and Vettel was able to emerge from his pit-stop with the lead and ultimately the victory.
In Bahrain, Hamilton was forced to start ninth after a penalty for a new gearbox. That meant Vettel and Valtteri Bottas would fight it out for the win -- Vettel would cling on despite coming under late pressure, while Hamilton finished third. Ferrari's strongest start to an F1 season since 2004 had raised excitement around the Maranello team.
Points after round two:
Vettel - 50
Hamilton - 33
Hamilton fights back, Vettel makes his first error
At the Chinese Grand Prix, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen led a Ferrari front row lockout -- something Sky Sports pundit Damon Hill likened to "empires rising and falling". But the race was dramatic: once again Bottas and Vettel were fighting for a
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo would take victory after capitalising on a well-timed Safety Car period to pit for fresh tyres. His teammate, Max Verstappen, had made a similar stop but several clumsy moves took him out of contention -- one of them also spun Vettel out of third place and relegated him down the order. Hamilton would take the final spot on the podium as Vettel had to settle for eighth.
In Azerbaijan, Vettel would make his first significant blunder of the year. While fighting Bottas for the win late on, he locked up at Turn 1 and ran wide, damaging his tyres and falling down the order to fourth. Instead of scoring 25 or 18 points, he left with 12. Making the error even more damaging from a championship perspective was that a late puncture for Bottas would hand the victory to Hamilton. The Englishman followed up with another win in Spain, where Vettel would also finish fourth after dropping behind Verstappen on strategy.
Points after round five:
Hamilton - 95
Vettel - 78
Points dropped by Vettel: 13
In Monaco, Ricciardo took pole for Red Bull and would hold on for victory despite a lingering engine problem. Vettel would finish second ahead of Hamilton but any notion that Ricciardo and Red Bull would be a championship outsider would fade in the races which followed. In Canada, Mercedes failed to deliver its latest specification of engine at one of the grid's most power-sensitive circuits. Vettel edged Bottas for pole as the Finn once again emerged as the stronger of the two Mercedes drivers -- Hamilton qualified fourth and would finish fifth, while Vettel claimed another comfortable win.
After what it described as a wake-up call, Mercedes fought back strongly in France with its own front-row lockout. Hamilton led away cleanly but Vettel would collide with Bottas at the start, forcing him into a recovery drive to fifth. It was another error and allowed Hamilton to move back in to the lead of the championship. Further drama was on the horizon.
Points after round eight:
Hamilton - 145
Vettel - 131
Points dropped by Vettel: 8 (21 overall)
Mercedes on the back foot
The next two rounds were significant blows to Mercedes' championship chances. In Austria it blundered on strategy before both cars retired with engine trouble, allowing Max Verstappen to beat Raikkonen and Vettel -- who Ferrari opted not to switch around -- to a shock victory. Vettel was left wondering what might have been, after needlessly incurring a grid penalty due to a block on Carlos Sainz during qualifying. Although he left Austria with an increased lead over Hamilton, he would have won the race without the penalty.
At the British Grand Prix, Hamilton would collide with Raikkonen at the start and, despite a thrilling fight back through the field, would finish second to Vettel -- the Ferrari driver's win secured by a thrilling pass on Bottas late on. It seemed like a significant moment. After taking the flag, Vettel opened his in-car radio channel to boastfully declare: "Now we take the English flag and hang it in Maranello", before Hamilton and Mercedes suggested that the team had implored Raikkonen to hit Hamilton on the opening lap.
Leaving Silverstone, it seemed like the championship was swinging towards Ferrari. That would all change in a big way at Hockenheim.
Points after round 10:
Vettel - 171
Hamilton - 163
Points dropped by Vettel: 10 (31 overall)
Vettel crumbles under pressure
The German Grand Prix looked like another chance for Vettel and Ferrari to ram home its advantage. The team was on a high following its victory at Silverstone and, after seeing Hamilton's car grind to a halt in Q1 after a brush with the kerbs caused his car to leak hydraulic fluid, Vettel led another comprehensive Ferrari lock-out of the front row. It was a huge opportunity to extend the gap.
As it turned out, the race which followed would change the entire complexion of the season. As Hamilton fought back through the field, Vettel led comfortably -- then the rain came. As the conditions worsened Vettel made an unforced error, crashing out of the lead and producing one of the most memorable images of the season. In a crazy sequence of laps at the end, Hamilton would gain the lead, hold off teammate Bottas before Mercedes stopped its drivers from racing, and then held on to the win after a late stewards inquiry for bailing out of a trip to the pits during the Safety Car period which followed Vettel's crash. Hamilton later credited "divine intervention" for what will surely be one of his most memorable career victories.
Points after round 11:
Hamilton - 188
Vettel - 171
Points dropped by Vettel: 25 (56 overall)
Turmoil at Maranello
Disappointment on track was followed by tragedy away from it for Ferrari. On the Wednesday after the Hockenheim race, Ferrari confirmed president Sergio Marchionne had died. Marchionne had stepped down for health reasons just days before. On the Saturday in Budapest, a rain shower ahead of Q3 allowed Hamilton to snatch pole position away from Vettel with one of his stand-out performances of the year.
Hamilton was able to convert that pole into victory the following day. Track position is all-important at the Hungaroging so Vettel was unable to convert Ferrari's superior pace into another win -- helped by teammate Bottas holding up his championship rival at a crucial point in the race. Heading into the summer break, most wondered how Vettel and Ferrari did not have a stronger lead in the championship. The fightback would have to be launched after the summer break...
Points after round 12:
Hamilton - 213
Vettel - 189
Ferrari's fightback falters
When racing resumed after F1's summer break, Ferrari still had a single-lap pace advantage. However, rain at Spa-Francorchamps on qualifying day presented Hamilton with an opportunity to cause yet another upset and he lined up ahead of Vettel on the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix. However, the joy was short lived as the first lap of the race exposed the weaknesses of the Mercedes and highlighted the strengths of the Ferrari, allowing Vettel to breeze past Hamilton for the lead on the opening lap. He went on to win the race by 11 seconds and it looked as though Ferrari's long-promised comeback had finally got underway. But Mercedes learned valuable lessons in Spa after struggling with traction out of the slow-speed corners at the start and end of the lap.
Those lessons proved to be crucial for the following races, starting in Monza one week later. Once again, Ferrari had the single-lap pace advantage in the dry but in qualifying it was Raikkonen and not Vettel who took advantage. Raikkonen had benefitted from a slipstream from Vettel in Q3 and taken pole by the smallest of margins, with Vettel second and Hamilton third. Although slightly awkward for the Italian team, Ferrari was expected to switch its drivers later in the race to give Vettel maximum points. But if there was a plan to do so, it fell apart in the opening corner as Raikkonen held off Vettel and left his teammate vulnerable to a fast-starting Hamilton. Going through the second chicane, Hamilton had his car alongside Vettel and the two made contact, with the Ferrari spinning off and dropping to the back of the field. Hamilton then went on to beat Raikkonen in a straight fight for the win, rubbing salt in the wounds of the Italian team.
Points after round 14:
Hamilton - 256
Vettel - 226
Points dropped by Vettel: 13 (69 overall)
Mercedes pushes ahead, albeit with some controversy
Despite the growing advantage held by Hamilton, Vettel was still seen as the favourite ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix. Sure, Hamilton had secured the results over the last few races, but everything indicated Ferrari still had the faster car. The same appeared to be true in practice in Singapore, but when qualifying started Ferrari faltered. That should take nothing away from Hamilton's pole position lap, which he still references as the closest he has ever got to perfection in an F1 car, but Vettel just didn't quite get it hooked up when it mattered and started third behind Max Verstappen. In the race, he managed to gain second place back but a strategy gamble by the Ferrari pit wall failed and he dropped to third in the pit stops where he remained for the rest of the race.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Singapore was the pace Mercedes had shown. On what was meant to be a bogey track, Hamilton had excelled and once again the engineers pointed to the lessons learned in Spa's slow corners as the reason for the turnaround. The next round in Russia was expected to be as tough a test as Singapore, but Mercedes' advantage actually grew. The only issue was that Bottas, not Hamilton, took pole position, putting Mercedes in an awkward position just like Ferrari had faced in Monza. Perhaps learning from the mistakes of their rivals, Mercedes ordered its drivers to swap midway through the race, giving Hamilton the victory but creating an awkward mood within the team after the race. No one knew whether to celebrate a one-two or commiserate with Bottas, but regardless of the wrongs and rights of the decision it gave Hamilton a 50-point lead five races remaining. From that point onwards, the title was no longer in Vettel's hands.
Points after round 15:
Hamilton - 306
Vettel - 256
Points dropped by Vettel: 10 (69 overall)
Ferrari implodes ... again
Going into the Japanese Grand Prix things were looking bleak for Vettel. He was now relying on mistakes from Hamilton, but it was -- you guessed it -- Ferrari who was still making errors. A decision to fit the wrong tyres for the conditions ahead of the final part of qualifying left Vettel eighth on the grid and needing the fightback of all fightbacks to challenge Mercedes, who once again had the faster car. He started well and was up to fourth after an early Safety Car when an over-optimistic overtaking move on Verstappen for third went wrong.
He managed to recover to sixth after a spin but the result had once again moved Hamilton's coronation a round or two earlier.
Points after round 17:
Hamilton - 331
Vettel - 246
Points dropped by Vettel: 10 (79 overall)
Game, set and match for Hamilton
The contrasting form of the pair heading in to the U.S. Grand Prix meant Hamilton had the chance to wrap up the championship in Austin, as he had done in 2015. A grid penalty for Sebastian Vettel for an infraction under the red flags appeared to make an early conclusion to the championship a formality. After clinching pole position, Hamilton was beaten into Turn 1 by Kimi Raikkonen, who was able to control the pace of the race from that point and claim a popular victory. Hamilton would settle for third after failing to get past Verstappen late on -- Vettel's recovery to fourth meant the fight continued to Mexico City.
Hamilton only needed a seventh place finish to secure the title in Mexico, and that was assuming Vettel won the race. The 71 laps of the Circuito Hermanos Rodriguez were far from straightforward, with all of the top drivers struggling with tyre issues. But even though Vettel passed Hamilton on track, the new world champion secured the title with an 4th place finish. It wasn't the way he would have wanted to kick off his title celebrations, but that will mean very little when the scale of his achievement sinks in over the coming days.
Points after round 19:
Hamilton - 358
Vettel - 294