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A word with Vitaly Petrov after his 3rd place in the Australian GP last weekend:

“I’d forgotten how many people had my phone number!”

The podium man sums up his Aussie experience and looks forward to racing in Malaysia.

Vitaly, congratulations on your first podium last time out. You must be feeling pretty good…
I felt really good after the race. It was great to be standing on the podium in front of my team, especially knowing what we have all been through over the winter with some very difficult moments. It shows that all the hard work and effort was worth it and I have to say thanks to everyone for giving me such a brilliant car. I know we can have a great season.

Did you ever imagine you could achieve this in just your 20th race?
Before we came to Australia I had a feeling that we could get a good result. Testing tells you very little, but we kept improving and bringing new parts to the car. Then, in Melbourne the car was perfect for the whole weekend and it went better session after session. I believe we can do the same in the next few races.

What reaction have you had following this result?
I’ve had a lot of phone calls and text messages from everybody I know saying ‘congratulations’. I’d forgotten how many people had my phone number!

Do you think you can be fighting at the front once again in Malaysia?
We now have a better idea of where we stand compared to our competitors, but I think we need to wait a few more races to see the real picture. We know that Red Bull and McLaren are very strong, too, but hopefully we can keep pushing them hard.

What about the track – will it suit the R31?
Again it’s difficult to say. The big question will be on the tyres because we have not really run in high temperatures. I know we have some more aero parts coming for Sepang which will help.

How challenging is the Sepang circuit?
I like the track, but it’s difficult because there are lots of different corners and finding the ideal set-up isn’t easy. You need a car that works everywhere: in the fast corners, in the slow corners, and you also need to be good on the brakes.

Do you have any advice for coping with the heat and humidity in Malaysia?
You just need to stay outside and avoid the air conditioning. That’s the secret. I don’t have a special diet, but I drink lots of water.

Nick Heldfield:

“DRS should have a bigger impact in Sepang”

After a tough weekend in Australia, Nick looks ahead to racing in Malaysia.

Nick, a tough opening weekend for you in Australia and not the way you wanted to start the season…
From my perspective it was obviously disappointing – even more so because it was clear to see how much potential we have in the car. My target is always to maximise each race weekend and I didn’t manage to do that in Melbourne.

Your car was heavily damaged on the opening lap – how tough was it to drive the rest of the race?
It was very difficult. The balance obviously wasn’t what it should have been; the grip was very low and that made it difficult to keep the tyres alive. But I still tried my very best because you never know what can happen in a race and there is always a chance to score points, so I kept pushing.

Were you able to learn much about the car’s performance or the tyres?
It was impossible, but we had useful data from Vitaly’s car. However, I did learn about the procedures of the team because it was my first full race weekend working with the guys and that was helpful.

Do you feel ready to bounce back in Malaysia? What are your objectives?
You always look forward to the next one, even more so when you have had a difficult race. At the moment my objective is to forget about Australia and look forward to Malaysia.

What are your thoughts on the impact of the DRS so far? Will the effect be more obvious in Malaysia?
Yes, I think it should have a bigger impact there. Overtaking has always been easier in Malaysia because of the circuit design. You have long straights followed by slow apex corners and we should see more action.

Nick and Vitaly’s guide to Malaysia

Best memory of Malaysia?
Nick: I’ve some good memories including my podium for Williams in 2005 and my second place finish a couple of years ago in the very wet race. Also, I set my first fastest lap in a race there in 2008 – that was the year I had fun with a double overtaking move on Alonso and Coulthard – it’s worth watching on YouTube!

Vitaly: I’ve been there a few times and had some fun races. In the GP2 series I won there in 2008 and 2009.

Do you like the track?
Nick: It can be special because of the weather. Sometimes it’s more like swimming than driving with the monsoons. It has a nice flow with some quick corners, as well as some overtaking opportunities.

Vitaly: I think it’s one of the more difficult tracks because of the mix of corners – both high and low speed. But it’s somewhere I’ve always enjoyed racing and you always have to be ready for the weather.

How do you relax in Malaysia?
Nick: If I have time I like to take a walk around Kuala Lumpur city centre. It’s a cool place with a lot to see, including the twin towers where there is also a great shopping centre.

Vitaly: This year I decided it was best to arrive early and do some training to get used to the humidity. I like to be outside playing sports because that helps your body adapt.

A word with the Boss
Eric toasts Vitaly’s first podium and sets his sights on further success.

Eric, the team enjoyed a great result in Australia. This must have been very pleasing after a busy and stressful winter?
Yes. First, it was a relief because it’s good to see that our car is a step up from last year and that we are already fighting for podiums. And it’s obviously a great reward for the whole team because everybody put a lot of effort in during the winter and especially over the last few weeks to get this car ready and working well.

Vitaly really delivered all weekend long in Melbourne. It was great to see him at the factory on Tuesday, where he received a very warm welcome from the staff…
Yes, it was good to see him firstly deliver on the track, having a focused weekend, remaining concentrated and being constructive with the team. Together they improved his car throughout the weekend. He had a very strong qualifying, where he soaked up the pressure well and then delivered a brilliant performance in the race. I think the result came from his perfect weekend and everyone in the team felt incredibly proud to see him on the podium. When he arrived here in Enstone after the race, addressing the whole team was a very good thing to do.

Is the race pace we saw from the R31 in Melbourne representative of where the car stands in the pecking order?
It reflected the order in Australia, to be honest. Today’s development rate is important and the capacity for the technical team to deliver a new package to the car is crucial in the fight for the championship. I think in Malaysia the order will be different, and for the race after that there will be another new order, so it’s not representative for the whole season, no.

Nick had a difficult first race with the team in Australia – are you confident he will bounce back in Sepang?
I’m 100% confident he will bounce back because he’s a fighter and a racer with a great deal of experience. He will be even more determined to give a great performance in Malaysia.

The development race starts in earnest, now. Do you think the team is capable of repeating the development pace it demonstrated last year?
I remain fully confident the team can repeat the performance of last year. We proved in 2010 that we had the ability to develop the car at a very high level and I see no reason why we cannot do the same this year, especially since we’ve worked on improving our processes and our production capacity.

Finally, do you think the team can continue taking the fight to what are considered the top teams – the Red Bulls, McLarens, and Ferraris of this world?
Yes, obviously we were in a good position in Australia and I can see us continuing to fight with the big teams.

Tech Talk with James Allison
The Technical Director looks back on a satisfying performance in Melbourne.

James, how did it feel to see the R31 finish on the podium on its debut?
It was a cocktail of exhilaration, relief and contentment to see the R31 start the season on the right foot and begin to reward the team for the effort that we have lavished on it.

Give us an idea of just how much effort went in behind the scenes over the winter to make this car…
The bare statistics show that this year’s car has 12% more drawings than any previous car we have made. The statistics do not, however, begin to tell the whole story. We committed to the forward exhaust layout in early September, having already done a lot of design work on a rear exit exhaust. Changing design direction in a major way at a relatively late stage places strain on the organization at every level. The team has risen to the challenge as they always do, but we continue to pay the price even now in terms of increased workload.

Vitaly finished ahead of a Red Bull and both Ferraris on merit. That bodes well for the car’s competitiveness…
It was a fine effort by Vitaly and an encouraging start for the R31. However, we will need to add a lot more performance to the car over the coming races if we want to keep up our early momentum.

The decision to make only two pit stops was key to Vitaly’s strong result. Is this a sign that the R31 is easier on its tyres than your competitors?
We had felt from winter testing that the R31 was relatively easy on its tyres and we seemed to go OK on them in Melbourne. However, the season is far too young to make any bold claims about how our tyre degradation stacks up relative to our competitors.

You spoke of new upgrades in Malaysia. Can you be more specific?
Well, I don’t want to be too specific – you know how paranoid we engineers are in this business – but I can say that we will bring a moderate upgrade package to Malaysia worth several tenths of a second. We will be making changes to the front and rear wing in addition to several items of bodywork.

Did You Know?
Coping with the heat and humidity of Malaysia is thirsty work. In fact, 4000 bottles of water will be drunk by team members during the four days of the event – that’s almost double the usual amount. On top of that, the team will also get through 1000 energy drinks and 1000 cans of soft drink.

What’s new for Sepang?
Nick and Vitaly will be using sparkling golden suits on race day in Sepang. It’s to allow them to stay a little cooler than they would otherwise be in their traditional black versions. Expect these suits to make several more appearances during the year – at the hotter races.

To view LRGP’s brand new preview magazine, packed full of exciting content, including interviews with all the key players at LRGP, simply click here.

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