Nick Heidfeld has settled in so well at Lotus Renault GP that he has already 'built around himself a climate of confidence' inside the team, managing director Eric Boullier has revealed - as the German acknowledges that F1 2011 could be the season in which he finally breaks his grand prix duck.

Heidfeld was chosen by Lotus Renault GP to stand in for the injured Robert Kubica, whose own F1 career continues to hang precariously in the balance following several rounds of surgery to operate upon the broken leg, broken arm and partially-severed hand the Pole suffered in a high-speed accident on the Ronde di Andora Rally in northern Italy last month.

On his very first day inside the cockpit of the R31 at Jerez, 'Quick Nick' immediately lived up to his speedy moniker by setting the fastest lap time of anybody around the southern Spanish circuit - and after that, his signature on a contract was really only a formality. Although such heady heights have not been scaled since, Heidfeld has been a consistently solid performer throughout pre-season testing - and has made himself very much at home at Enstone, Boullier admits.

"Nick has a very good approach," the Frenchman told Swiss website 20min.ch. "He gets deeply involved and has already convinced the technical team of his value. He has quickly built around himself a climate of confidence."

Despite the knowledge that should Kubica return as it is hoped he will ultimately be able to, he is effectively only keeping his former team-mate's seat warm for him, Heidfeld insists he does not feel that he is being treated as merely a 'stop-gap' by his new employer - and contends that even if the circumstances surrounding his comeback were far from pleasant, he is optimistic about being able to at last reach that elusive top step of the podium in F1 2011.

"It looked like it would be over for the moment, but not forever," the 33-year-old told Reuters, reflecting upon his release by Sauber late last season that had threatened to irreversibly bring down the curtain on his 172-start grand prix career. "Unfortunately, I have been in similar situations before - when it didn't look good over the winter - and then something came along.

"Clearly, this was the most extreme...this year was very unexpected, which makes it nicer, apart from the fact obviously that Robert's bad accident isn't a nice thing. Trying to put that aside, though, it's always nice if something happens unexpectedly and, on top of that, in a good team [that has] been on an up and has gone through very good developments during last season.

"Testing has gone well, but whether it's good enough to have a win this season is very much unknown. I doubt very much that we are the quickest team at the moment, but you don't always need to have the quickest car to win one race..."

Meanwhile, Boullier has offered an encouraging update on Kubica's ongoing rehabilitation at the Santa Corona Hospital in Pietra Ligure close to Genoa, explaining that the 26-year-old is 'ahead of all expectations', whilst conceding that although he still does not regret his decision to allow his driver to go rallying in the build-up to the new F1 campaign, he might have to re-evaluate the 'category' of vehicle used in future.

"He is extremely motivated and upbeat, and even if it's not rosy every day, overall he is doing exceptionally," he assured.

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