Lotus Renault GP man Vitaly Petrov is feeling bullish ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend and while he is not underestimating Red Bull Racing or McLaren, he is hopeful the Enstone-based outfit can 'keep pushing them hard'.
The Russian made a fantastic start to F1 2011 two weeks ago, his second season at the pinnacle of the sport and after lining up in an excellent sixth on the grid at Albert Park, he eventually brought his R31 home in third place to bag his breakthrough rostrum at the top level. The 26-year-old is now convinced they can maintain that kind form at the Sepang International Circuit on Sunday.
“I felt really good after the race [in Australia],” Petrov reflected. “It was great to be standing on the podium in front of my team, especially knowing what we have all been through over the winter with some very difficult moments. It shows that all the hard work and effort was worth it and I have to say thanks to everyone for giving me such a brilliant car. I know we can have a great season.
“We now have a better idea of where we stand compared to our competitors, but I think we need to wait a few more races to see the real picture. We know that Red Bull and McLaren are very strong, too, but hopefully we can keep pushing them hard.
“Before we came to Australia I had a feeling that we could get a good result. Testing tells you very little, but we kept improving and bringing new parts to the car. Then, in Melbourne the car was perfect for the whole weekend and it went better session after session. I believe we can do the same in the next few races.”
Pressed on if the Lotus Renault GP R31 will be suited to Sepang, Petrov added that at this stage it is 'difficult to say': “The big question will be on the tyres because we have not really run in high temperatures,” he continued. “I know we have some more aero parts coming for Sepang [though] which will help.
“I like the track, even if it's difficult because there are lots of different corners and finding the ideal set-up isn't easy. You need a car that works everywhere: in the fast corners, in the slow corners, and you also need to be good on the brakes.
“I've been there a few times and had some fun races. In the GP2 series I won there in 2008 and 2009.
“It's somewhere I've always enjoyed racing - but you always have to be ready for the weather.”