Vitaly Petrov is confident that heading into this weekend's German Grand Prix, Lotus Renault GP has 'understood what went wrong' last time out at Silverstone and that new updates for the Nürburgring 'will give us more of a chance' – as he insists that making it through to the top ten in qualifying will be vital.
Having begun the F1 2011 campaign in a blaze of glory with back-to-back podiums in Australia and Malaysia, Lotus Renault GP has slipped increasingly far from the pace of late, and in the British Grand Prix, the team appeared to suffer more than most from the FIA's calamitous – and since rescinded – ban on off-throttle blown-exhausts.
For the first time all season, neither Petrov nor team-mate Nick Heidfeld made it into Q3 at Silverstone, and although the experienced German worked his way up to eighth place at the chequered flag, the young Russian endured a tougher time of things, winding up outside of the points in a lowly twelfth. He is convinced lessons have since been learned.
“The experience of the venue was fantastic, because the British Grand Prix has so many fans, there are just so many passionate people and it was our home race, too,” the 26-year-old reflected, before adding: “Unfortunately, our on-track performance was not great over the three days. We had a very poor qualifying which left us in P14 and P16 – well below where we should be qualifying. The wet weather didn't help us, and the rule changes clearly had an impact.
“During the race, I got an okay start but we really struggled with the tyres and I found the car pretty undriveable in the wet conditions. I was unable to get to grips with the intermediates, which affected us badly and we were just unable to protect ourselves from the other drivers.
“When the conditions dried, we picked up our pace but it was not enough because we needed the car to be stronger than it was, so generally I was disappointed because I thought the high-speed corners would suit us well. However, since then, I think that we as a team have understood what went wrong and will move on from it in Germany.”
Describing the Nürburgring as 'very technical and challenging' and a circuit he appreciates – and one at which he has fond memories from the GP2 Series – Petrov acknowledges that Lotus Renault GP's significant package of upgrades for the weekend ahead will be pivotal to finally rediscovering the R31's true form and extracting its full potential once again.
“The weather can be quite changeable there, which will have an impact,” he mused, “but the main thing we need is a strong set-up for the car. As usual, aerodynamic efficiency will be the key. The car hasn't performed at the level we know it can, and it has been off-the-pace for a few races now so we must get it right quickly to turn our season around. Additionally, it's very important we reach Q3 in qualifying so that we can score more points come Sunday afternoon.
“Once again, we will be aiming for the maximum number of points, but we need to look at the whole weekend and get our performance up immediately from FP1 right through until the race. Since Silverstone, we have been putting in the work to ensure we give ourselves the best possible chance at the Nürburgring. The speed with which we introduce our new upgrades is the critical factor in our success, and I'm convinced that having these upgrades in-place for Germany will give us more of a chance.”
Meanwhile, Petrov paid a visit to the Formula Sochi Festival in his homeland last weekend, and he admitted that it was a proud moment to be able to bring F1 to the attention of his partisan fans.
“I think it's been very important to come to Sochi and demonstrate all the sport has to offer,” he remarked. “F1 is getting more popular in my country, and we have a Russian Grand Prix in a few years, so now is a good time to say, 'look, this is what F1 is all about!'”