Damon Hill has predicted that Sebastian Vettel will only get stronger now the Red Bull driver has a maiden F1 title to his name.
The German secured the crown in dramatic fashion with victory in the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi, which was enough to see him leapfrog Fernando Alonso at the top of the standings.
Vettel will proudly carry the number one into the new season as he looks to defend his title and Hill predicted that the youngster would become more of a threat without the pressure of trying to win the crown for the first time.
"I think Vettel is very strong," Hill told ESPN
during the annual BRDC awards ceremony. "He's been right at the front now for a couple of seasons and this world championship frees him up and I think he'll be able to relax a little bit, not too much, and enjoy himself. And when a driver is enjoying himself he is more of a threat I think, so the pressure's a little bit off. He's so young and I think he's going to have many championships before he retires."
However, despite saying that Vettel could start 2011 as the favourite for the title, Hill backed British pair Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to be strong as the Woking-based squad looks to beat Red Bull to the championship.
"McLaren are always a team that are able to produce an advantage or get on top of technical issues very quickly and I'm sure they will be surprising us with some new inventions for next season as well,” he said. “We had the F-Duct this year and I'm sure the boffins will be there thinking up all sorts of other tweaks that will put McLaren back at the front. I'm sure they won't be resting over the winter.
"Jenson has his own approach to racing and I think that it showed he was always in there with a chance right through to the end and I think that he's a strong driver. For his first season in a new team I think he's laid his foundation down very well and I think he's well respected within the team and I think that he can build on that. I think he will always be a contender."