Renault signs Petrov for two years; there goes that suspense (updated)

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After all the hand-wringing and the questions about Vitaly Petrov’s commitment to the Renault team, the Russian signed on today officially for two more years as Robert Kubica’s team mate.

Nothing yet at the Renault web site — maybe they are being cautious after posting that press release that slammed the Piquets? — but the official Formula 1 site has the news:

“I am very happy to continue with the team and proud to be representing Lotus Renault GP for the 2011 and 2012 seasons,” said Petrov, who has just completed his rookie F1 campaign with the team. “I learned a lot about the sport, the circuits and the car this year. That will help me improve even more in the future.

“I am very excited about working with this great team once more, and I’m confident that I will deliver. In many ways, 2010 was about learning. 2011 will be about performing. Today, I feel I am ready to rise to this challenge.”

Here, though, seems to be the money quote (literally!):

Gerard Lopez, team chairman, commented: “We’re delighted to have Vitaly on board for another two years. Last season, he showed on several occasions that he clearly has the potential to deliver. It was just a matter of putting everything together during the same weekend, race after race, and this will be his target for 2011.

“Also, thanks to Vitaly and the team, Russia is opening up to Formula One. Over the past few months, we’ve established close links with this country and with some of its strongest companies. We’re looking forward to building on this special relationship and turning it into a very successful adventure over the next two seasons.”

Get that? I have to assume Petrov’s ability to “open up” Russia played into today’s decision. (By the way, have any of us figured out if he has much of a fan base in his native country?)

Unless Renault was going to go with a proven, but perhaps tired, driver such as Nick Heidfeld, this move seems to make the most sense. Maybe they gave consideration to Nico Hulkenberg, who I’d think most of us would rate higher than Vitaly. But Petrov had his promising moments, and if he can minimize the stupid moments, he could help Renault battle for a top three spot in the season — thinking optimistically.

But who among us even thought Renault would be battling for podiums this time last year?

UPDATED:

Renault now has its presser up at its site with the same quotes as above but also the following Q&A with Petrov:

Q&A with Vitaly Petrov

Vitaly, how does it feel to be confirmed at Lotus Renault GP?
It feels great. I learned so much this year and I know that I can come back stronger in 2011. I’m extremely proud to be part of this team and I’m determined to repay the faith they have shown in me.

Looking back on your rookie season, what did you enjoy the most?
There were a lot of special moments. The race in Shanghai is something that I will always remember when I overtook Schumacher and Webber to score my first points. Then, the first time I made Q3 in Turkey was an important step for me. And, of course, the race in Hungary was probably my best weekend when everything came together for me.

How has your life change since you became an F1 driver?
There’s a lot more travelling and not a lot of time for myself, but I will never complain because I love what I’m doing. I still feel like a boy at Christmas every time I get in the car. Life is not as easy as people think, of course, and there’s a lot more to F1 than driving the car, but it’s an amazing experience and I know I’m lucky to be one of just 24 drivers on the grid.

Do you feel at home at Lotus Renault GP?
Yes, definitely. Previous drivers have always said that there is a special atmosphere here and I have to say I agree with them. The team is very warm, friendly and open, and I get on really well with the guys.

Can you feel the growing support for F1 from Russia?
Definitely. I get more support from my country every week. In fact, recently one of the major lifestyle magazines included me in their top ten most attractive single men of Russia! You can feel that the sport is becoming more popular and soon we will have our own Grand Prix, which will create more interest. Even our prime minister, Mr Putin, got a taste of F1 when he tried a Renault F1 car earlier this year.

What will be the main challenges of 2011?
There are quite a few changes that we have to adapt to as a team: new tyres, moveable rear wings and KERS, which I’ve never used before. There’s even a new race in India. So there are some things to adapt to, but they should improve the show and make for better racing. I’ve already seen the new car in the wind tunnel and it looks very promising. I also love our new colours and can’t wait to get back in the car and go racing.

What do you hope to achieve in your second season?
My objective is to continue improving as a driver and to become more consistent. There were times this year when I made mistakes and lost points, and I know this is where I can improve. I think I showed that I have the speed, but I need to be consistent over the whole weekend and get the maximum from every session.

What is your plan over the next couple of months before testing begins in February?
I was thinking about spending a few days in Maranello this winter, but I have been told it probably wasn’t the best idea… Seriously, after a busy year I’m taking the time to go back home and see my family and friends. It’s also the time to recharge my batteries so that I can come back fresh next year. I’m already working hard on my fitness and doing lots of training to be ready for the start of the season. Then, in January, I will be at the factory to see my engineers and for my seat-fit in the new car.

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