Two ex-grand prix-winners have suggested that it is not beyond the realms of probability that Vitaly Petrov could follow in their wheel tracks by ascending the top step of the podium in F1 2011 - describing his progress as 'huge' and praising the young Russian for having 'done a fantastic job under a lot of duress this year'.

Petrov clung onto his seat at Lotus Renault GP at the end of a frustratingly inconsistent 2010 campaign - his rookie season in the top flight - by the skin of his teeth. More pressure was heaped upon his shoulders in the wake of team leader Robert Kubica's debilitating rallying accident in February, but he has responded magnificently and immediately repaid his employer's continued faith in him with a superb and wholly unanticipated rostrum finish in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne the following month.

Although there have been no such heady heights since, the 26-year-old has nonetheless given a consistently good account of himself, with three points finishes from the subsequent six outings - including a strong fifth place in Montreal just under a fortnight ago - and proving to be more than a match for experienced team-mate Nick Heidfeld. Former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell and Ferrari hero Jean Alesi have been suitably impressed, with the Briton even likening Petrov's early grand prix career to his own three decades ago.

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"Vitaly has done a fantastic job under a lot of duress this year," asserted Mansell, according to The Sun/i>. "I can see great things from him, going up against big names like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull. You may think that the best you can do is finish seventh - and I had that upwards of seven years in F1 - but if you are there, you are ready to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. Don't be surprised if he doesn't surprise himself and win a race this year. That would be fantastic."

"Straightaway this year, we have been very impressed," concurred Alesi. "Straightaway he was on the podium and he surprised everybody. The jump he made from last year to this year is huge - and the position he took in Melbourne was not by luck. Many times in F1 there is an accident and three cars go away, but this podium was achieved by his own ability."