Former F1 world champion Alain Prost is backing Sebastian Vettel to make it four-in-a-row titles in 2013, but reckons the new season will see a very even field of competition overall.
"He is still the favorite," said Prost of Vettel's prospects this year in the F1 world championship. "Behind him, it's hard to say ... It could be a very even field, we'll see some good races.
"Alonso could be the most dangerous behind Vettel and why not an outsider like Raikkonen or Grosjean?" he added, hinting that the Lotus duo might be the surprise package of the season. Prost's son Nicholas is a development driver with the squad.
If Vettel were to take the crown again in 2013 then he would join only three other drivers to have won four or more championships since the start of F1 in 1950. Prost himself also clinched four titles in his time in the sport with Williams and McLaren, while Juan Manuel Fangio took five and Michael Schumacher remains the outright master with seven championships to his name.
"Red Bull are still there and certainly better than last year at the same time," said Prost, explaining his reasoning following the pre-season testing so far at Jerez and Barcelona. "Ferrari are also good. McLaren will be certainly among the top three and Lotus also up there.
"Mercedes will not be challenging for the title, I don't think so," the 58-year-old added. "There's a little question mark over Mercedes, we still don't know their level. They were a long way away at the end of last season so I don't see them suddenly returning to the front. But they will be up there at certain tracks."
As well as wondering how Lewis Hamilton's arrival will affect Mercedes' forthcoming season, Prost also suggested "having a young driver in his place be destabilising" for McLaren, as the Woking squad get Hamilton's replacement Sergio Perez embedded into their way of doing things.
For Prost, there was still no one else on the F1 grid with the all round package - driver skill allied a stable team situation supplying him with the best car and technical support - to match Vettel, although he hoped that the young German wouldn't blaze away form the field right at the start of the year and kill the excitement of the competition too soon.
"I hope he doesn't have a start to the season like he did two years ago when he won four or five races in a row!" agreed Prost.