Vitaly Petrov believes his arrival in Formula 1 with Renault will be a huge boost to efforts to bring a grand prix to Russia.
The 25-year-old's deal with Renault – announced at the team's 2010 car launch today – makes him the first of his countrymen to race in F1.
Russia has long been a target for F1, but efforts to hold a race in the nation have yet to get beyond the initial planning stage. Petrov said he had pushed hard to make a Russian GP a reality, and thinks his Renault seat could make a huge difference to the project's chances of success.
"This is what I tried to do a long time ago, so when I was driving in GP2 I always tried to get the TV and newspapers to say, 'Come on, we're Russia, we're a big country, we must have a Formula 1 grand prix. It has to be,'" he said. "So now I'm here maybe they'll wake up and try to do something."
He also hopes more Russian companies will become involved in the sport. Although Petrov is believed to have substantial sponsorship behind him, he said it had all been raised via family and management connections.
When asked if he thought Russian businesses would now want to back him, Petrov replied: "They must now, they must wake up because we came here without any sponsors, without any help to be in Formula 1 – with just my father, my manager and my father's friends. Nobody else. Now they will see us in Formula 1 and that will change something."
Petrov admitted that he was now likely to become the focus of huge press attention in Russia, but was confident it would not become a distraction.
"Now there's a big explosion in Russia with all the TV and newspapers," he said. "They'll be calling me but I'll try to switch off the phone and concentrate on working with the team because Formula 1 is something new for me, but I hope it will be good."
Although the limited testing available before the first race is expected to put rookies at a disadvantage, Petrov said he was remaining open-minded about his prospects having not yet driven the car.
"Let's wait for the second or third test," he said. "Then I can tell you what's going on. I've talked with the engineers already, so first I need to do some laps to have a feeling for this car and then we'll see. I'll try my best. The first target will be to finish races and then score points for the team."
He is confident that he will fare better than his former GP2 teammate and Renault predecessor Romain Grosjean, who struggled after stepping up to the top level to replace Nelson Piquet halfway through the 2009 season.
"For me it was maybe a bit of a mistake [for Grosjean] to finish GP2 in the middle and go to Formula 1 because first of all he didn't have tests," Petrov said. "Other drivers had already done some races, so it was difficult for him to be at the top. But now I think I have time to learn a little bit and then we will see."