Renault`s Petrov hails best qualifying result

Updated: Mar 26, 2011, 23:51 PM IST

Melbourne: Renault driver Vitaly Petrov hailed his best qualifying result at a Formula One race after securing sixth place on the grid for Sunday`s Australian Grand Prix.

"Yes, it was a very great day," Russia`s first Formula One driver told reporters in the paddock at Albert Park on Saturday.

"We should be quite proud of our place so the weekend also looks very good."

"The car looks not too bad, it`s just the first weekend, we need to wait more time to understand where we are realistically."

"We don`t have any mechanical problems or any other problems so I think everything`s going well."

In his debut season last year, Petrov scored just 27 points compared to team mate Robert Kubica`s 136, and had been put on notice by team principal Eric Boullier to turn his potential into results.

He stood out in the season-ending Abu Dhabi race, however, and earned a two-year extension on his contract after finishing sixth and holding off Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso in a battle to end the Spaniard`s title hopes.

Having been dismissed by some as a "pay driver" brought in to attract Russian sponsorship, Petrov is firming as a challenger to more senior team mate Nick Heidfeld, who replaced Kubica at Renault after the Pole was badly injured in a rally crash in February.

Heidfeld will line up 18th on the grid on Sunday after being knocked out after the first qualifying session.

"He was nowhere a year ago ... At zero," Boullier told reporters in the paddock of Petrov.

"Now he understand he needs to (be) composed with his driving as well to help the car sometimes to be fast."

"And this is why I think he did a major statement (today)."

"Today it was another man, a guy who clearly has a place in Formula One."

Petrov, who was persuaded to move to Britain to better integrate himself into the team, said his positive start to the season could only be put down to experience.

"It`s nothing really, it`s just experience in Formula One, I know much more in Formula One compared to last year and I know this track from last year," said the 26-year-old, whose fastest lap in qualifying was still more than 1.7 seconds slower than pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.

"Red Bull are still flying away from everybody else. At the moment it`s not possible to catch them," he said.

"What can you do? Crash into them," he laughed.

"Of course I am joking, but it`s really not possible to catch them."

Bureau Report