Jean Alesi believes that the key 2023 title fight could be between Adrian Newey and Ferrari as each party battles to have the stronger car.
The Scuderia looked to have the edge over their rivals when the 2022 F1 season got underway, with Charles Leclerc building a championship lead in the opening races.
However, Red Bull soon took the momentum as Ferrari's challenge fell away, while Mercedes continued to struggle with issues on their W13.
Max Verstappen went on to dominate the campaign and claim his second title with four Grands Prix to spare.
As such, Alesi thinks that Red Bull designer Newey could be the crucial factor in deciding who the championship favours in 2023.
Alesi stresses importance of Newey
"You have to consider [as Ferrari], I think, two competitors," Alesi told Italian publication Autosprint.
"Red Bull, which is currently the absolute leader in Formula 1 and is incredibly strong in every field. Also, Mercedes. They are getting stronger, especially after Russell's victory in Brazil.
"I don't think they will make a mistake twice in designing a car.
"If we really look at how things stand, the real factor to consider is Adrian Newey. Ever since F1 announced that there were new rules and engineers were given freedom, Newey has been making a difference."
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More than a battle between Verstappen and Leclerc
While the fight on track will play out between the drivers, Alesi – who raced in Formula 1 between 1989 and 2001 – expects Newey's influence to be particularly important.
"Newey has become the decisive factor, because he is able like no other to keep improving the car during the season, even if it's only small changes," Alesi explained.
"In the end, though, they are small gains. That's why I don't think it will be a battle between Verstappen and Leclerc, but fundamentally between Newey and Ferrari.
"If he again comes up with a masterpiece, everything will be very difficult again this year. On the other hand, if this year's Red Bull car will have something fallible and fragile things could change.
"In any case, let us not forget that, whether things go well or badly, Newey is a fundamental factor in winning or losing."