Vitaly Petrov has said he feels like a new man this year, with his debut season blues now firmly a thing of the past.
The Russian faced a fight to keep hold of his seat at Lotus Renault GP for this season, after an inconsistent rookie campaign in 2010 that witnessed some very public errors. However, having started his second year in Formula 1 with a podium in Australia, Petrov says that his experience this time out is totally different.
"From one year to another year, it is like a switch that turns off something in your mind," said Petrov, at an event to mark the opening of the revamped Hethel test track at Group Lotus' headquarters.
"You start to be closer to the team, and the team starts to follow you – and helps you to be on top. You can work together to be on the top and be friends with them. We talk on the phone and they say there is nothing that I have to get sorted.
"I feel like I am at home and they support me all the year. This is maybe why the results are here this year."
Petrov's improvement in form this year has earned big praise from former F1 stars and Lotus consultants Nigel Mansell and Jean Alesi, who are in no doubt about the extent that the Russian has improved.
"Vitaly has done a fantastic job under a lot of duress this year. I can see great things from him, going up against big names like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull," said Mansell. "You may think that the best you can do is finish seventh, and I had that upward for seven years in F1, but if you are there, you are ready to pick up when things go wrong. So, don't be surprised if he doesn't surprise himself and win a race this year. That would be fantastic."
Alesi added: "This year, we have been very impressed. Straight away he was on the podium and he surprised everybody. Everybody expected Vitaly to be more competitive because he has not yet big experience, but 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 done by his own capacity."
Petrov said he would be foolish to rule out the possibility of a race win.
"All drivers want to win and be on the top, but I think we are moving in the right direction," explained the Russian. "Last year was not fantastic, but this year there have been a lot of improvements, and we are still improving together.
"Everything is possible in this life. You can see what happened in Canada – there was a big mess, so if there are more races like this then anything is possible."