• Russian replaces the axed Jarno Trulli at Caterham
• Owner admits economics played a role in driver switch
Vitaly Petrov has been handed a Formula One reprieve after being signed up by Caterham for the new season.
Petrov was released by Renault at the end of last year after two seasons with the Enstone-based marque that is now known as Lotus.
It appeared that the 27-year-old from Russia would be out of F1, but with the opening grand prix in Australia just four weeks away, Caterham have caused a stir by replacing Jarno Trulli with Petrov.
Trulli’s position within the team has always been tenuous, despite a contract for this year, with rumours constantly surrounding the 37-year-old, even at last week’s first pre-season test in Jerez. After 15 seasons in the sport and 251 grand prix starts, Trulli now finds himself on the sidelines, which means for the first time since 1969 there will be no Italian on the grid this season.
Petrov said: “I have been training hard all winter and am ready to get back into the cockpit and go to work. From what I have seen already, our new car is another good step forward from 2011, and now I cannot wait to see how it feels when we get to Barcelona [for the second test next week].”
The team owner, Tony Fernandes, has confirmed reaching an agreement with Trulli who does not even have a role as reserve given Dutchman Geido van der Garde occupies that position.
Appreciating the difficulty in axing Trulli, in particular as he played “a pivotal role” in the formation of the team just over two years ago, Fernandes said: “Jarno knew that when he joined us it would be a very different environment to where he had been before.
“When we gave him the package he wanted he absolutely shone. With that in mind it was not an easy decision to bring Vitaly in to replace Jarno. But it was one we made to ensure we give fresh impetus across the whole team and with a realistic eye on the global economic market.
“Jarno has an incredible natural talent behind the wheel, and his winning record and longevity in the sport will bear testament to that talent in the Formula One annals forever. But now it is time to open a new chapter in our team’s story, and Vitaly is the right person to help us do that.”
Fernandes will now likely tap into the Russian market to bring in new sponsors, but it is Petrov’s ability he believes will take the team forward.
“His talents and experience with one of our current competitors, and insights on and off track, will play a huge role in our development as we fight to join the established teams ahead,” added Fernandes. “Now we want to integrate Vitaly as quickly as possible into the team.
“We will do everything we can to welcome him in, give him a car he can use to showcase his skills, and keep up the rate of development that has seen us go from an empty factory with just four employees to a fully established Formula One team in just over two years.”