The first half of our ranking of the top 10 drivers of Formula One's 2018 season includes two men who combined for six victories in a car that probably should have guided one of them to the world championship title.
10. Esteban Ocon
It's sad that the man kicking off this list will not be on the grid next season. Mercedes junior Ocon became a victim of circumstance of the driver market merry-go-round and went from looking like a shoo-in for a season with Renault to not having a drive at all in the space of a few months. His performances across the year deserved better.
The high point was his superb qualifying performance in the wet at Spa-Francorchamps, where he claimed third on the grid. In fact, Saturdays were a strong point for the young Frenchman -- he out-qualified Force India teammate Sergio Perez over the year. However, his failure to beat the Mexican driver in points must count against him, especially given the lofty expectations many have for his future. Perez is a good driver, but it is hard to escape the feeling that Ocon never really stamped his authority on that intra-team battle in the same way other emerging talents have in recent seasons.
The most obvious blot on his record was his collision with race leader Max Verstappen at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Ocon was being lapped and did not give Verstappen enough room to pass, punting the Red Bull driver out of contention. It seemed like an uncharacteristic moment of madness. That incident aside, he did his reputation a lot of good over the course of 2018, and hopefully his absence from the grid will be temporary -- the smart money says he will have a shiny silver Mercedes to drive in 2020.
9. Nico Hulkenberg
Hulkenberg is becoming the king of the impressive-but-not-spectacular Formula One season. Common paddock consensus coming into the season was that Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz would be one of the closest teammate fights over the year, but Hulkenberg beat the Spaniard fairly comfortably in qualifying and in races across the year.
The biggest mark against him was the crash he caused in the opening seconds of the Belgian Grand Prix. Hulkenberg missed his braking point and slammed into Fernando Alonso's car, sending the McLaren into a terrifying spin over the top of Charles Leclerc's Sauber. It was the one real low point of an otherwise solid and consistent campaign that helped Renault win the battle to be the best of the rest in the midfield fight. It will be fascinating to see whether Hulkenberg can raise his game again with Daniel Ricciardo set to join him at Renault in 2019.
8. Sergio Perez
Perez put another solid campaign together in 2018. He was the only driver outside the top three teams to score a podium (in a chaotic race in Baku) and finished the season 13 points clear of Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. Considering Ocon is next in line for a drive at Mercedes should Valtteri Bottas falter in 2019, it says a lot about the quality of the 28-year-old from Mexico, who is now entering the prime years of his career.
And yet, it's still hard to imagine Perez getting a call up from a top team. For all his impressive and clinical point-scoring, he was still out-qualified by Ocon over the course of the year. Although he was often in the same tenth of a second as Ocon, that lack of total dominance over a younger, less experienced teammate leaves question marks around his ultimate potential. Nevertheless, his position in this top 10 is fully deserved, especially given the upheaval at Force India midway through the year, which he was a central part of.
7. Kimi Raikkonen
After four years as Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari teammate, Raikkonen finally emerged from the German's shadow at the end of 2018 and won his first race since rejoining the Italian team in 2014. That was partly down to Vettel's campaign falling apart in the second half of the year, but that shouldn't take away from Raikkonen's achievements.
Compared with Vettel, his qualifying pace was still disappointing -- errors in Q3 remain an undesirable trait of a standard Raikkonen race weekend -- but in the races he often showed promising pace, and of the 16 races they both finished, he beat Vettel in half. His four retirements were not of his making, and it's hard to point to major mistakes, certainly none of the magnitude Vettel was making in the second half of the year.
His first win in 113 races, at the U.S. Grand Prix, was well-judged and helped to underline just how much Vettel had dropped off the pace in the business end of the season. Now he is completely out of the shadow of Ferrari and Vettel, the hope is that we will see a rejuvenated Raikkonen at Sauber next year.
6. Sebastian Vettel
Ordinarily, the runner-up of the world championship and winner of five races would command a better rating on this list. But there is probably an argument that sixth is generous for Vettel, given how his 2018 campaign unfolded.
He couldn't have started the year any better. Wins at the opening two races, Australia and Bahrain, confirmed suggestions Ferrari had developed its best car of the current decade, one Mercedes had no answer to at certain points in the season. After another win in Canada, Vettel and Ferrari inflicted what at the time appeared to be a decisive victory at the British Grand Prix, held just down the road from Mercedes' two F1 factories. But from that point, Vettel's title bid collapsed in spectacular fashion.
At the next race, as he looked set to impose another blow to title rival Lewis Hamilton, he spun out of the lead as the rain intensified at the German Grand Prix. Hamilton went on to win, a momentum shift that was never properly reversed at any point afterward. Vettel would be beaten to pole and victory by Hamilton in Hungary before winning in Belgium, but the implosion would continue in earnest from that point on.
Having been beaten to pole at the Italian Grand Prix by Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel was then spun out of contention after a clash with Hamilton on the opening lap. He appeared favourite for the Singapore race but qualified and finished third while Hamilton turned the screw further by winning the race. Vettel looked increasingly desperate in the final races of the year, spinning after collisions with Max Verstappen in Japan and Daniel Ricciardo in Austin.
Vettel's form at the start of the campaign earned this spot on the list. His 2018 will be remembered for blowing the opportunity to end Ferrari's wait for a championship -- the car was clearly capable of delivering him a fifth world title, but he crumbled under the pressure. It was the sort of season that can tarnish a legacy, and, unless he can bring a title back to Maranello in the next few seasons, it will be hard to shake the memory of what has to be one of the most remarkable meltdowns in the sport's recent history.