Nick Heidfeld has revealed that has 'more input' at Lotus Renault GP than he had at any of his previous teams in F1, and on the eve of the curtain-raiser for the 2011 world championship campaign in Melbourne this weekend, he contends that the Enstone-based operation should be in a position to do battle for the rostrum right from the word 'go'.

Heidfeld might be to all intents and purposes a stand-in for his injured former team-mate Robert Kubica this season, but Lotus Renault GP team principal Eric Boullier has admitted that since his very first day of testing, the experienced and underrated German 'has quickly built around himself a climate of confidence' [see separate story - click here]. It is a sentiment with which 'Quick Nick' palpably concurs.

"Right from the first test, I have tried to push the car in the right direction," he affirmed, "and I've really enjoyed working with the team. I can have more input here than I was used to in other teams, because everybody is very open and interested in what I have to say."

Confessing that he always enjoys the Australian Grand Prix and that the country is 'my favourite place to travel to on the calendar because the people are relaxed and there's always a warm atmosphere', Heidfeld went on to enthuse about the design of the 'gorgeous' new R31 and dismissed with a wry smile suggestions that his prior experience with Pirelli in 2010 will be a boon in F1's new tyre era. There is no hiding the fact, though, that the 33-year-old is bullish about both his and the rebadged Renault outfit's prospects this year.

"There are lots of unknowns, especially because it's the first time we will race with the new adjustable rear wing, KERS and Pirelli tyres," he mused. "I believe the tyres will have the biggest impact and will make the strategy quite exciting. I expect to see a lot more pit-stops than in the past - at least three per race - and I believe the pit-stop windows will be narrower. That's because when the tyres degrade and lose performance, you have no choice but to pit, otherwise you lose too much time.

"You always have to put things in perspective when talking about testing. I think we have a quick car, but like every team on the grid we have had a few issues to cope with during the tests, especially in terms of reliability. This said, we've been able to develop some very promising elements. We have an idea of where we stand, but nobody knows exactly. I think we have good performance in the car and, if everything is working well, I hope we can fight for podiums from the start of the season."

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