Vitaly Petrov was 'finally able to show his true talent' and speed with a fighting and impressive drive to break his F1 points duck in seventh place in last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, contends Eric Boullier – and the result, the Renault team principal suggests, could just mark a breakthrough for the Russian rookie.
Fast but wild and unrefined would probably most aptly sum up Petrov's beginnings in the top flight over the first three races of 2010, with scintillating starts making up for somewhat poor qualifying form and a combative and determined on-track manner winning the so-called 'Vyborg Rocket' a number of fans, particularly in the wake of his feisty scrap with McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia earlier this month, when he doggedly refused to let the 2008 F1 World Champion get away and was far from intimidated by his rival's illustrious reputation.
In Shanghai, arguably, the 25-year-old did even better than that, with bold late-race passes on Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber enabling him to record not only his first finish at the highest level, but also both his and his country's first-ever points into the bargain – having suffered reliability gremlins in both Sakhir and Sepang, and having spun away his chances of scoring Down Under in Melbourne.
What's more, that was achieved in unpredictable and changeable climatic conditions that caught out many a more experienced competitor, meaning that to take the chequered flag only 25 seconds in arrears of highly-rated, grand prix-winning team-mate Robert Kubica – and to set a fastest lap time within two tenths of a second of the Pole's best effort to-boot – was noteworthy indeed.
The result marked Renault's first double points finish since the same race back in 2008, and afterwards Boullier was effusive in his praise for the reigning GP2 Series runner-up, arguing that the Enstone-based outfit's faith in its new young charge has now been justified and that the 'pay-driver' tag can now be cast aside for good.
“Vitaly put in a great drive,” enthused the delighted Frenchman. “At the beginning of the race the conditions were very tricky. Some parts of the track were wet, some weren't. It's never easy for a rookie when the conditions are changing all the time, but once everybody got onto the same tyres in the second half of the race he just got faster and faster. In the final laps he was the quickest car on-track.
“We know he has some very strong qualities – his speed and calmness under pressure. You always have to give young drivers time. [Kamui] Kobayashi and [Nico] Hülkenberg – the other rookies in established teams (Sauber and Williams respectively) – have struggled to finish races and score points this year, and they both have more experience in an F1 car. [In China] Vitaly was finally able to show his true talent. It demonstrated that once he has confidence in the car, he can be very quick indeed.”