Renault boss Eric Boullier says Vitaly Petrov is a new man this year, after praising the Russian for grabbing sixth on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix.
Coming off a difficult winter for Renault following Robert Kubica's rally crash, Petrov gave the team something to cheer about with a strong showing in Melbourne qualifying. After Petrov put in the best qualifying performance of his career, Boullier said that the progress his driver has made has been impressive.
"He was nowhere a year ago," said Boullier. "He has taken a lot of experience compared to last year, and now he knows he needs to be composed to help the car to be fast.
"Last year I don't even remember where he qualified the first race, but here he was another man. The guy clearly has his place in F1."
Petrov's performance gave the team some consolation for seeing Nick Heidfeld's first outing fall flat, after he got eliminated in Q1. Speaking about that, Boullier said: "I am frustrated because obviously a traffic problem meant Nick did not make it in Q2. But I am relieved about our car performance. I am happy."
When asked where he reckoned Kubica could have qualified judging by how he regularly beat Petrov last year, Boullier said: "I don't want to guess, as I don't want to be more frustrated. But Vitaly did a good step forward clearly. His relationship with the team is much better. He is more integrated and clearly he has done a good job. He could have been at least a couple of tenths faster but it is good to match [Fernando] Alonso's pace."