Eric Boullier has confessed that he was the driving force behind the decision to retain the services of Vitaly Petrov at Lotus Renault GP into F1 2011 and that in taking such a risk he consequently 'would have had no excuses if he had failed for a second year' – but the young Russian's superb performance in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend suggests that the excuse book will not be necessary.
Petrov's future was an uncertain one for some time late last year, with Renault excited by his raw speed, never-say-die determination and feisty on-track aggression, but equally frustrated by his alarming inconsistency, propensity for errors and occasional inability to turn it on in qualifying, and his comparatively meagre points tally of just 27 in a season in which team-mate Robert Kubica notched up 136.
It is inarguable that the 26-year-old's brilliantly defensive drive in the Abu Dhabi finale went a long way towards securing his seat – if not exactly endearing him to a certain Signor Alonso – and following Petrov's entirely unanticipated but thoroughly well-deserved podium finish Down Under, it appears that Boullier's enduring faith in him and two-year 'gamble' has been vindicated.
“He had a couple of good races last year, but there were mistakes as well,” the Frenchman acknowledged, “so I put a lot of pressure on him. I spent a lot of time talking with him, to understand what was wrong and why he was making all his mistakes. We spent a lot of time discussing with him and putting in-place an environment to help him understand the English culture, let's say, and the culture of F1.
“We also had to help him improve his communication around his car, to find a way for him to deliver the message about improving his speed, but also for him to understand what the team were expecting. We had a commitment from him that he would make the move to get closer to what we were expecting, including the most physical in moving to England.
“It was not an easy decision [to re-sign Petrov], because I would have had no excuses if he had failed for a second year. He has reacted in a good way, though, and it looks like we have achieved something with him.”
The former GP2 Series front-runner has indeed now relocated to be close to Renault's F1 base at Enstone in Oxfordshire, but despite his outstanding start to the 2011 campaign at Albert Park, Boullier warns that it is still far too early to install Petrov as the new de facto
number one inside the team in the absence of the injured Kubica
“You can't give the title of team leader to a young guy who has only had one year in F1, and who started without having done a single mile,” he stressed, “but if he takes this position then I'm happy, and if he keeps repeating the performances we saw on Sunday, to be honest I'll be more than happy.”