The Formula One season, which promised to be competitive, is about to end the same way it has each of the past four years: with Mercedes at the top.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel looked like a genuine threat to the German manufacturer in the first weeks of the campaign, only to lag behind Lewis Hamilton’s pace after the summer break. A pair of retirements in Singapore and Japan all but ended his challenge.

Other notable drivers also languished in 2017 due to underperforming packages.

To achieve a closer Drivers’ Championship in 2018, these three drivers must have winning cars:

Fernando Alonso

Long considered the kingpin of F1, Fernando Alonso has drifted to the back of the grid recently. The past three years with McLaren have been nothing short of disaster, and he’s let everyone know about his nightmarish experiences. Without a win at any Grand Prix since 2013 – when he led the way for Ferrari – Alonso has retired from 17 races as McLaren’s headliner.

The Spaniard has routinely mocked his own team, saying, “I have never raced with less power in my life,” over the radio before a DNF in Bahrain – and even skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to compete at the Indianapolis 500.

McLaren apparently listened to his criticism, ditching its problematic Honda engine for Renault. That was enough for Alonso to sign up for 2018.

Lance Stroll

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

When Lance Stroll entered F1, critics dismissed the teenager as the spoiled son of a rich father who had no business racing at this level. They said his father, Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, had essentially bought his place at Williams by providing sponsorships to the team.

Stroll initially made it difficult to disagree. He failed to finish in four of his first six races, prompting 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve to call his rookie performances “one of the worst” in F1 history.

Everything changed in Azerbaijan. At 18 years old and 239 days, Stroll became the youngest rookie to stand on an F1 podium. Just weeks later, an amazing performance in Italian Grand Prix qualifying – and in torrential rain no less – won him a spot on the grid’s front row.

He attributed the mixed results to an unreliable car, at one point calling it “impossible” to drive. But the Toronto native is just as culpable, having crashed 12 laps into his preseason debut and later causing a collision in Malaysia that left Vettel fuming.

That’s part and parcel with Stroll, whose cold-blooded driving style will undoubtedly excite fans for years to come. As teammate Felipe Massa steps aside, Stroll should become Williams’ No. 1 priority. And let’s remember this is a team that’s produced seven world champions in the past.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen had every reason to feel betrayed by Red Bull. Forced to retire from seven of the 19 races in which he’s started this season, the 20-year-old has posted a nearly a 50 percent failure rate. That’s unacceptable for one of the most marketable and entertaining drivers in F1.

The outspoken Dutchman smoothed things over by signing a contract extension last month. Late-season success must’ve had something to do with the change in tune.

Problems with Red Bull’s Renault engine and wind tunnel compromised Verstappen’s season and deprived fans of arguably the best overtaker in the sport.

“There are so many fans paying a lot for the tickets and you finish like this,” he said, after retiring on the eighth lap of the Belgian Grand Prix. “That cannot happen with a top team.”

Red Bull had long been considered the freshest challenger to Mercedes. If the quadruple world champion has hopes of a turnaround in 2018, it must first give Verstappen a chance to finish races.

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