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F1's 'other Brit' senses a chance to shine

Formula One - Australia Grand Prix - Melbourne, Australia - 17/03/16 - Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer poses for a drivers portrait before the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. REUTERS/Brandon Malone/Files
Formula One - Australia Grand Prix - Melbourne, Australia - 17/03/16 - Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer poses for a drivers portrait before the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. REUTERS/Brandon Malone/Files

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Jolyon Palmer, by his own admission, did not make much of a mark on Formula One last season.

But the "other Brit" on the starting grid, now that Jenson Button has departed and left Lewis Hamilton as the country's only active world champion, is hoping to leave a stronger impression second time around.

"One point. Yeah. I didn’t make a big dent into it," the Renault driver said of his 2016 tally from 21 grands prix

"I’m really confident that it will be a much better season. I haven’t got a lot of doubt about it."

Last season was a hard slog in a car best forgotten.

Announced by Lotus as a driver before Renault completed their takeover of a team in desperate need of finance, Palmer was in danger of being squeezed out after the French manufacturer signed Nico Hulkenberg for 2017.

Instead, it was Denmark's Kevin Magnussen who left for Haas and Palmer the one who stayed. Which was just as well, because he had no Plan B.

"I feel like it’s completely different sat here now," he told Reuters in an interview during winter testing.

"I honestly think you learn more in the difficult times. And really, last year there were times where I had to pull myself together.

"The year started quite difficult and I had to regroup and get my head straight for doing what I could the rest of the year. And having come through that, now I’m sat here with that experience which a lot of drivers don’t have.

"You’re on the back foot and in a fight for survival. I’ve come through that and now hopefully we are going to have a much stronger year, and I know I can dig deep and when the pressure’s on, shine through."

Renault are aiming for fifth place overall, a big improvement from ninth last year, but Palmer will still be occupying a very different space from Hamilton.

BLING-FREE ZONE

There are no gold necklaces, Hollywood red carpets or private jets in the life of one of the few F1 drivers with a university education. Mention the word "bling" and he smiles.

"You know what, I think that’s a long way away," said Palmer, who shares an apartment in London with his sister when not living out of a suitcase.

"If that happens, then someone needs to give me a bit of a shove back into reality."

"I can’t see myself living in Monaco, but maybe in one year’s time I’ll suddenly have a change of heart and Nico convinces me it’s really good and I move there."

Somehow, you suspect not.

A champion in the GP2 feeder series at the fourth attempt in 2014 -- Hamilton won it first time out in 2006 -- Palmer acquired a reputation for steady improvement that was also evident last year.

He will need to shift up a gear against Le Mans winner Hulkenberg, who brings a wealth of experience from Williams and Force India and will be expected to lead the team, but Palmer said he felt a lot more relaxed.

"I know what to expect, I know how it works and I’ve got a good relationship with the management here," he said.

"I feel like hopefully we’re set up for the future as a team now.

"Last year was Renault’s first year back, no-one knew really what to expect, the pressure was big on both drivers. And this year everything just feels a bit more comfortable."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neville Dalton)

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