Renault chief admits retaining Vitaly Petrov was a gamble
Renault team principal Eric Boullier has admitted to putting his neck on the line over the winter for Vitaly Petrov.
The Russian was a bitter disappointment last year in his rookie season, falling considerably short of expectations.
Petrov scored just 27 points, finishing 109 behind team-mate Robert Kubica, and was predominantly the reason why Renault missed out on fourth place in the constructors' championship to Mercedes.
Few people within Formula One expected Petrov to be retained, but a resilient performance in the final grand prix in Abu Dhabi arguably saved his skin.
On that occasion Petrov held up Fernando Alonso for the majority of the race, and in so doing prevented the Ferrari star from winning a third world title.
Following several long conversations with Boullier in the close-season, and a much-needed move to England to be closer to the factory in Enstone, Petrov proved his worth on Sunday.
In the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, he secured the first podium of his career in finishing behind race-winner Sebastian Vettel and runner-up Lewis Hamilton.
That made Boullier a "very happy and relieved" man as Petrov vindicated the Frenchman's belief in him.
"He had a couple of good races last year, but there were also mistakes as well, so I put a lot of pressure on him," said Boullier.
"I spent a lot of time talking with him, to understand what was wrong and why he was making all his mistakes.
"We spent a lot of time discussing with him and putting in place an environment to help him understand the English culture, let's say, and the culture of Formula One.
"We also had to help him improve his communication around his car, to find a way for him to deliver the message about improving his speed, but also for him to understand what the team were expecting.
"We had a commitment from him that he would make the move to get closer to what we were expecting, including the most physical in moving to England.
"It was not an easy decision (to keep him) because I would have had no excuses if he had failed for a second year.
"He has reacted in a good way, and it looks like we have achieved something with him."
Despite arguably the most accomplished performance of Petrov's F1 career to date, Boullier believes it is too early for him to take up the mantle of being team leader.
Kubica was undoubtedly the number one driver prior to suffering horrific injuries in a rallying accident in February that have placed his future in limbo.
Renault recruited Nick Heidfeld as a replacement, but the German was surprisingly disappointing in Melbourne and trailed a long way behind Petrov in both qualifying and the race.
"You can't give the title of team leader to a young guy who has only had one year in Formula One, and who started without having done a single mile," added Boullier.
"But if he takes this position then I'm happy, and if he keeps repeating the performances we saw on Sunday, to be honest I'll be more than happy."
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