Vitaly Petrov has silenced his detractors with a stellar qualifying effort for Lotus Renault GP ahead of this weekend's F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, confessing that 'there was a lot of pressure' in Q3 and 'no second chances' – but it was a situation in which he rose magnificently to the challenge and 'delivered'.
It is in just such circumstances that the old Petrov – the Mk1 rookie model of F1 2010 – would likely have crumbled and erred, but having sworn earlier this week that he is 'a very different person this year' [see separate story – click here
], the young Russian was duly composed and assured throughout.
The 26-year-old produced a sublime lap to go third-quickest in Q1 – the session in which his new team-mate Nick Heidfeld found himself unexpectedly eliminated – and then progressed comfortably through to the top ten shoot-out, in which he raised Renault's spirits with a stirring performance to secure himself a third row starting spot in sixth…right next to his old friend from Abu Dhabi last year, double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.
“After all the hard work during a very tough winter for the whole team, it feels great to come here and qualify on the third row,” he affirmed. “There was a lot of pressure in Q3 because I only had one run, right at the end of the session, so there were no second chances and I'm glad I was able to deliver the lap.
“The car has felt good right from the start of practice, and we've improved it constantly during each session. I think we are in a great position for the race and that we can fight for some points tomorrow. I'm not too worried about the tyres, because they have been working well for us so far and we have not seen the drop-off that we saw during winter testing.”
“We're all very pleased with sixth on the grid for Vitaly,” concurred the Enstone-based outfit's technical director James Allison. “It was very hard to judge from winter testing exactly where we stood in the pecking order. However, I was really pleased with the way Vitaly improved the car steadily through the weekend and produced really consistent results in each part of qualifying. Still, there is a big gap to pole position and we need to work on reducing that.
“So far this weekend, the tyres have proved durable and consistent – much more so than we saw during testing – and that's the case for both the hard and the soft compounds, so perhaps the race might not be quite as frantic as we expected before we arrived here.
“From what we could tell during the pre-season, our car seemed to run pretty well on its tyres, so hopefully we can make good starts with both cars and move forward during the race. It's too early to have a feeling on race pace, but I think we will be able to maintain and improve on our qualifying competitiveness.”