Ex-F1 star Jean Alesi suggests that notwithstanding the raft of regulation changes for 2011 and the vagaries of the Pirelli tyres, the pecking order this season will be much the same as it has been in recent years - even if 'we'll have to wait until at least the first races to see who will be strong'.

The fast-approaching new campaign is set to rev into life with the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of this month - and Alesi reckons the sport's fans are in for another cracker.

"The championship last year was fantastic," the former Ferrari star - who so famously and emotionally claimed his sole grand prix victory with the Prancing Horse in Montreal in 1995 - told Crash.net ahead of the opening of the hostilities Down Under. "Vettel deserved to win it; he dominated the whole championship. Of course, for Ferrari it was a disappointing last race, but in the end Sebastian deserved it.

"I hope we're going to see something similarly exciting - or even better [in 2011]! With the new regulations, the order in terms of the speed of the teams might change, so we'll have to wait until at least the first races to see who will be strong - although I think it will be more-or-less as it was."

Assessing the anticipated title contenders, Alesi forecast continued success for defending double world champions Red Bull Racing as 'ever since I can remember in F1, Adrian Newey has been the best designer', acknowledged that whilst '[Felipe] Massa suffered a little bit from the domination of Fernando [Alonso]' at Ferrari in 2010, 'a team is a balance between the two drivers' and argued that despite its initial troubles with the new MP4-26, 'McLaren is always a competitor for the world title, every year'.

The Frenchman went on to cast a glance at his erstwhile sparring-partner Michael Schumacher at Mercedes Grand Prix, wondering aloud whether the most successful driver in the history of the sport will truly be able to rediscover his once all-conquering form in the more testing-restricted modern era.

"Last year it was difficult to judge his comeback, because of the performance of the car," he mused. "Mercedes don't want to be like that again and I'm sure Michael can do a lot, but now with the limited testing format he has less chance to be how he was in the past."

As to Lotus Renault GP, finally, the recently-appointed Lotus Cars ambassador admitted he 'hopes' the Enstone-based outfit proves capable of returning to the top step of the podium with its innovative R31, described his new role of developing and driving the unique Type 125 as 'really exciting' and - perhaps characteristically for a man who has always had little taste for the paddock's constant bickering and politics - quipped that he 'doesn't care' about the ongoing Lotus naming row.

And finally, will 'Jeannot' be back at Le Mans this year for a third crack at the legendary round-the-clock La Sarthe classic? "Maybe," he tantalisingly reveals with a glint in his eye. Hopefully, we silently respond, as he turns and walks away.