Vitaly Petrov believes his third place in the Australian Grand Prix is an indication of what the 2011 Renault is capable of, though he admitted he was not sure quite how good the car was before the race.
The Russian qualified an impressive sixth, grabbed fourth at the start, and then secured third by making his tires last through a two-stop strategy while main rivals Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso pitted three times.
"I am happy to be here sitting with these guys," said Petrov after joining Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on the podium. "All weekend was pretty good but after that we didn't know where we are. Coming here we had some new parts and from Friday practice our car looked very strong, and qualifying was not too bad. Then we focused on our race, and today did everything perfectly and we must be proud of our place today."
Petrov's fast start took him into the first corner three-abreast with Jenson Button and Alonso, but the Russian held his ground as the more experienced drivers slid wide.
"The start was not bad and I tried to attack Fernando and then saw Jenson Button in front, so why brake earlier?" said Petrov. "I eased the brake and tried to pass both of them which was great."
When its lead driver Robert Kubica was seriously injured in a rally crash earlier this year, Renault decided it needed another experienced racer to take charge so drafted in Nick Heidfeld alongside Petrov rather than using official reserve Bruno Senna. But Heidfeld had a poor weekend in Australia and was comprehensively overshadowed by Petrov.
Asked if this meant he could lead the team, Petrov replied: "I think I don't need to answer anything, you can see it also. But yes!"