Four-time world champion Alain Prost believes Sebastian Vettel will equal his own tally of championships with a fourth successive victory in the title race this season.
Only three drivers – Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Prost – have won four or more titles since the Formula 1 World Championship began in 1950.
But Frenchman Prost, 58, who won his four championships with two teams – Williams and McLaren – over a nine-year period, said “Oh yes” when asked whether Red Bull’s Vettel could join that illustrious group.
“Although 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,” he added.
In 2011, Vettel won five of the first six races – and 11 overall – to win the championship in Japan with four races to spare.
Last season was much closer, with the German clinching his third title in a dramatic final race in Brazil, finishing just three points ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
“He is still the favourite,” added Prost. “Behind him, it’s hard to say.
“Will losing Lewis Hamilton and having a young driver in his place be destabilising for McLaren? Mercedes will not be challenging for the title, I don’t think so.
“Alonso could be the most dangerous behind Vettel and why not an outsider like Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen or Romain Grosjean?”
After the first two of three pre-season tests, Prost believes Red Bull are still the team to beat added the field looks to have closed up.
“Red Bull are still there and certainly better than last year at the same time,” said Prost, who won his titles in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993.
“Ferrari are also good. McLaren will be certainly among the top three and Lotus also up there.
“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.
“It could be a very even field. We’ll see some good races.”