Vitaly Petrov has described himself as 'a very different person' heading into the F1 2011 World Championship compared to the driver he was this time last year, as he assesses Lotus Renault GP's 'strong, aggressive and innovative' new R31 to similarly be 'a big step forward' over its predecessor.
Following a rookie season in the top flight during which he was frequently fast and combative in battle but even more frequently worryingly erratic, Petrov's future at Renault hung precariously in the balance at the end of 2010, but since his reconfirmation at the newly-rebranded Enstone-based outfit, the young Russian has concentrated on looking forwards rather than back.
Despite having lost Robert Kubica as his team-mate due to the Pole's high-speed rallying accident, the 26-year-old still has an experienced campaigner alongside him in the other side of the garage in the shape of Nick Heidfeld – and as he prepares to begin his sophomore season in the sport with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne, everything looks to be in-place for the 'Vyborg Rocket' to fulfil his undoubted potential.
“I think I'm a very different person,” Petrov mused, reflecting upon the past twelve months. “I have more experience, I know the team very well and I understand more about F1. Even just knowing all the circuits makes things a lot easier. I feel much better-prepared.
“We learned a lot during the winter. The R31 is certainly a big step forward, but at the same time we have to cope with new tyres, which have a massive impact on performance. With these tyres, there is more movement and they are more aggressive than what we were used to in the past because of the degradation.
“You always want more time to test. If you give us another week, we will use it, especially because we have so many new things on the car this year. I had my first experience of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) over the winter and the adjustable rear wing, which is something new for everyone.
“'Multi-tasking' will be the word of the year. Playing with all the steering wheel dials at 300km/h will be, I guess, like answering three Blackberry messages while making fried eggs and doing your shoe laces...all at the same time! We'll see how it goes, but I think our solutions are good and I believe we can be competitive.
“[Melbourne] is a good place to start the year, and I really enjoyed my first visit last year. The fans are crazy about F1, the grandstands are full and it's clear that the country loves the race.
“The guys have done a great job with this car. It's strong, aggressive and innovative, and we will add lots of new things during the season. I don't want to say where we will finish because nobody really knows, but we believe we are closer to the front than we were last season. Probably by the second or third race, we will start to really understand.”