The rumours finally turned out to be true: the Caterham F1 team has fired Jarno Trulli and taken on
the sponsorship roubles from Vitaly Petrov in his place. The Russian driver had been linked with the team ever since his unexpected dismissal from the Lotus Renault GP team during the off-season.
Petrov will partner Heikki Kovalainen for the 2012 season, while the curtain has almost certainly been brought down on Jarno Trulli’s 252 Grand Prix career, the fourth-longest in the history of the sport.
Unless there is another unexpected shake-up in the driver market, next month’s Australian Grand Prix will be the first time since the 1970 Mexican Grand Prix that Italy will not have a single driver in the field. Just twenty years ago, Italian drivers comprised over one-third of the entire field; Trulli was the only driver set to fly the tricolore in 2012.
Trulli had a truly rubbish season last year, thumped 17-2 in qualifying by team-mate Kovalainen and generally looking unmotivated in a car he was clearly not happy with. It is little surprise that rumours of his demise would prove to be true.
Despite seemingly holding a valid contract to race with the team for the 2012 season, senior figures at Caterham were very careful in their wording over Trulli’s exact role at the Hingham-based squad. He was given just one day’s running (to Kovalainen’s two) at the first pre-season test in the team’s new CT01 last week at Jerez.
With the Russian Grand Prix set to make its inaugural appearance on the Grand Prix calendar next year, it would be foolish to pretend that Caterham isn’t benefiting handsomely from Petrov remaining on the grid this year.
It was widely reported that he was waiting on a few key sponsors to help cement a deal to keep him on the grid, and obviously these backers have now come good.
“This is a very exciting day for me,” Petrov has said in the team’s media release.
“The passion and spirit that Tony and the whole team have to keep moving forwards is infectious, and I am honoured to be able to join them and play my part in helping the team mount a serious challenge to the teams ahead in 2012 and for many seasons to come.”
“We are all delighted to welcome Vitaly into our team and are very excited about the role he will play in helping us take the next steps forward in 2012 and for many years to come,” added Caterham Team Principal Tony Fernandes.
“It was not an easy decision to bring Vitaly in to replace Jarno, but it was one we made to ensure that we give fresh impetus across the whole team and with a realistic eye on the global economic market,” he added.
“I also want to take this opportunity to thank Jarno for the absolutely pivotal role he played in the formation and progression of our team since he joined us in December 2009. 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 1 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.”