Australian Grand Prix: Vitaly Has Impressive Start for Renault, Petrov Takes 3rd

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIMarch 27, 2011

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27:  Race winner Sebastian Vettel (C) of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium with second placed Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and McLaren and third placed Vitaly Petrov of Russia and Renault following the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on March 27, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

With reflective and emotive banners proclaiming, "We miss you Robert," it would have been logical to expect complacency in the Renault camp before the start of the season.

Their second driver, Vitaly Petrov had signed a two-year extension to his contract, however, this was mainly seen as a financial decision and not a talent-based choice.

In fairness, the Russian was always doomed to appear weak in comparison to a driver regarded as one of, if not the best in the field. Sadly a freak rallying accident left Robert Kubica out of action, with his former BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld to take his place for the foreseeable future.

Early predictions involved the idea that Heidfeld could and would challenge for points and possible podiums. Petrov, on the other hand, just needed to kick his inconsistency into touch and attempt to build himself prolonged exposure and involvement within the sport. 

Relief came for Renault in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix when surprisingly it was Petrov and not Heidfeld that went against expectation. He bolstered himself deep into the top-10 and placed himself sixth on the grid.

Heidfeld alternatively struggled to set the time sheets alight. Limited testing opportunities could be the reason and he will look to improve on this until Kubica's return.

From this positions the objectives were clear. Petrov was required to transfer his early promise into a result and Heidfeld would look to edge into the top-10 and a points-scoring finish. 

With an excellent start, Petrov thrust himself into fourth position, behind Vettel, Hamilton and Webber. His qualifying run then appeared to be no fluke as he sustained his pace and eventually found himself in a comfortable third place.  

Even with a late surge from Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso which echoed back to Abu Dhabi, the Russian performed to a level that will gain him mountains of praise.

Events may have been different if Kubica had taken his seat for the season opener. The gap between Petrov and the top two was beyond the Russian's efforts, but maybe Kubica could have challenged. He did, after all, finish second in Melbourne last season.

Yet, consequentially, the Renault team are at least for now in safe hands in Kubica's absence. If he were to return before the end of the season he can do so in order to build upon a successful opening innings.

This does in part depend on the capability of Heidfeld to edge himself into consistent points-scoring finishes. It also requires Petrov to insist upon keeping his superb start to the campaign.

There is no doubt that without Kubica, Petrov now has a chance to shine. He can gift us a vision of the supposed talents that earned him his position in the sports elite.  

His evidently embarrassing parking skills may leave a lot to be desired; his drive into Parc Ferme at the climax of the Grand Prix saw him misjudge the entrance and sit behind the top two and not at the side of them. But this rightfully went completely unnoticed amidst his heroics. It did give me a chuckle though.  

Now for the rest of the season we await to see what he can do next. One thing for sure is that Kubica will still be sorely missed, not by Renault, but by the racing world. At least Petrov's impressive performance eases the pain somewhat and goes some way into signalling a new and enhanced era for the Renault team.