RUSSIAN IN A RUSH
Vitaly Petrov’s progress
is becoming clear to all
Vitaly Petrov admits that he
“had a bad season” in his
first year of Formula 1. There
were occasional strong performances
– fifth in Hungary and sixth in Abu
Dhabi – and flashes of speed, but also
far too many mistakes and off days.
A tally of 27 points compared to
Renault teammate Robert Kubica’s
haul of 136 doesn’t lie.
With Kubica out of action in 2011,
things changed for Russia’s first F1
driver. A composed third place in the
season-opening Australian Grand
Prix transformed his standing.
“Last year, I had too strong a
teammate and I always tried to catch
up with him!” says Petrov. “Sometimes
I forgot to focus on my driving. This
year, I’ve tried not to make the same
mistake. My podium showed the team
I could do the job. That was important
because now they trust me.”
There’s no question that Petrov
has improved. He showed well against
veteran Nick Heidfeld, even though
points have become scarce as the
car has dropped down the order. But
the elephant in the room is whether
Kubica’s absence has flattered the
27-year-old. Renault’s track operations
director Alan Permane doesn’t deny
that the reference point changed, but
doesn’t think Petrov has stood still.
“He’s taken a step up in terms of
consistency and pace,” says Permane.
“Robert was on average about 0.8sec
quicker than Vitaly last year but I
suspect the gap would’ve come down.
We’re not talking about him being at
Robert’s level yet, but Vitaly has
matured and taken on responsibility.”
The Renault, with its forward-facing exhaust, hasn’t been an easy
animal to tame. On his best days,
Petrov has done so, although there
are still a few mistakes, as Michael
Schumacher discovered in Korea. So
no, Petrov is still no Kubica, but he’s
Senna has been quick and comfortable in the Renault R31. The same words couldn’t be used to describe his time in the erratic and slow HRT he “raced” in 2010 (BELOW).
end of 2010, Senna was all washed up
with most teams only interested in him
because of the dollar signs they believed
his name could bring. He headed into
2011 with his career momentum having
all but dissipated and took the Renault
reserve driver role as a way to stay in F1.
Most reserves secretly hope that one
of the team’s regular drivers picks up
some innocuous injury that forces him to
skip a few races, but Senna’s misfortune
was that Kubica injured himself too
seriously (see sidebar). Renault team
principal Eric Boullier couldn’t afford to
go into the season without an
was held in wet, but drying, conditions but the Brazilian had
the confidence to attack and ended up seventh on the grid, ahead
of Petrov. In the race, he overcooked it into the first corner and
clattered into the innocent Jaime Alguersuari, but that mistake
was excusable for a driver who hadn’t started a cut-and-thrust
open-wheel race in a competitive car since his GP2 days.
Since then, Senna has continued to qualify strongly, beating
Petrov three times in his first five Saturdays in a Renault. But
aside from a couple of points at the Italian Grand Prix for ninth
place after being delayed in a first corner accident, the races
have been harder.
“I have made mistakes in the races,” admits Senna. “There’s
no way to shortcut racecraft. If you don’t do it for long enough
– and I haven’t really raced for maybe two-and-a-half years – it
catches up with you. It feels a little bit like 2005, my first full
season in car racing, when I was building confidence.”
It’s a reasonable excuse. Senna’s inexperience at this level
was exposed in the Korean Grand Prix where rain on Friday
meant that he was underexperienced in dry conditions and he
turned in a very messy qualifying and race performance. But
team principal Boullier is certain that Senna is overcoming
the doubters despite a mixed bag in his first five outings.
experienced hand, and so F1 veteran
Nick Heidfeld was signed up.
Heidfeld had a couple of strong
performances, but the team ditched him
after Hungary. This followed Senna’s
one-off outing during Friday morning
practice at the Hungaroring which, if
you compensated for the condition of his
tires when he set his best lap, saw him
outpace regular driver Vitaly Petrov. In at
the deep end for the Belgian Grand Prix
that followed, Senna excelled. Qualifying
“I have made
mistakes in the races.
There’s no way to