ESPN's driver of the year countdown: No. 1 - Lewis Hamilton

F1 2017: Driver of the season (1:24)

ESPN's experts reveal their picks for the driver of the 2017 Formula 1 season. (1:24)

We struggled to find fault in Lewis Hamilton's record-breaking year, especially his run of form from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards.

1. Lewis Hamilton
Championship position: 1st (363 points)

Not only was Lewis Hamilton's year worthy of a fourth title, it was arguably the best season of his Formula One career. From the Belgian Grand Prix to the Mexican Grand Prix he was in supreme form, and it was in that run of seven races that he secured the championship ahead of Sebastian Vettel. That's not to say there weren't impressive moments outside that run -- the Spanish, Canadian and British Grands Prix all spring to mind -- but in that period of extreme pressure he got the job done and consistently outperformed title rival Sebastian Vettel.

After three years of warring with former teammate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton was in a much happier place in 2017. For all his natural ability in on-track battles, he is not well equipped for dealing with conflict off it and he struggled to combat Rosberg's mind games in 2016. But alongside new teammate Valtteri Bottas he naturally made himself the focal point for the team's attention and that was reflected in his results.

Hamilton's happier headspace also paid dividends in his battle with Vettel. While the Ferrari driver was prone to letting his emotions cloud his judgement, Hamilton never once sacrificed performance through frustration. Undoubtedly his Mercedes' perfect reliability played a huge part in his title success, but Hamilton more than upheld his side of the bargain.


Wolff explains why Hamilton was ESPN's driver of the season

Mercedes F1 executive director Toto Wolff explains what makes Lewis Hamilton a worthy winner of ESPN's driver of the year.

It's easy to assume Hamilton has a tendency to rely on his natural ability to secure results, but accounts from within the team suggest he is among the most diligent drivers on the grid. Mercedes' 2017 newcomers Bottas and technical director James Allison both expressed surprise at the work Hamilton does behind the scenes after seeing him spend extended engineering sessions to get to the bottom of issues. That hard work on the engineering side allowed him to learn from, and ultimately overcome, the setup issues that led to his worst races of the year in Sochi, Monaco and Budapest.

Two below par performances followed at the final two rounds of the season, but Hamilton admitted to letting his preparations slip after he had won the title. That could count as a negative but it also goes to show the level at which Hamilton was operating prior to the final two races and, once again, the effort he puts in behind the scenes. Not so long ago his extra-curricular activities away from the track were fuel for his critics, but his consistent performances this year are proof that he has nailed his work/life balance.

With a new contract currently under negotiation to remain at Mercedes until at least 2020, Hamilton is showing no signs of slowing up. Put simply, the rest of his rivals will need to up their games to catch him in 2018.