Melbourne: Vitaly Petrov celebrated his transformation from zero to hero after finishing third in the Australian Grand Prix and becoming the first Russian to stand on the podium in Formula One.
The 26-year-old was in danger of losing his drive at Renault after being heavily outscored by his team mate Robert Kubica in his debut season last year and only secured a new deal after a battling sixth place in the season-ender in Abu Dhabi.
With the team robbed of Kubica by the serious injuries the Pole sustained in a rally car crash earlier this year, Petrov carried that form into the opening race of this season by claiming his best qualifying position of sixth on Saturday.
In a sizzling start on Sunday, he roared past Briton Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso and resisted strong pressure from the Spaniard at the end of the race to deliver a famous result for his team.
"I`m delighted to be here on the podium, especially after the winter we had as a team," he said.
"I made a great start today, which was probably the key to my race because it got me ahead of Alonso and Button, and I was able to run some clean air and push hard.”
"This result (is) for all (of the team) and I`m totally ecstatic."
Team boss Eric Boullier, who on Saturday said Petrov had been "at zero" last year, said the result proved the team had been right to go for an aggressive design in their 2011 car.
"The performance of Vitaly was very strong and it shows that we can deliver strong results this season," he said.
"Knowing the pace of Robert, whether he could have been better?" he added. "I don`t want to think about the `if`. We need to think about the future and his way to be back here."
Boullier passed on a congratulatory text message from Kubica to Petrov, who said he would be sleeping with his trophy.
Asked whether he could now lead the team in Kubica`s absence, Petrov was initially happy for Sunday`s result to speak for itself.
"I don`t think I need to answer anything," he said. "I think you can see it ... Yes."