Petrov replaces Trulli at Caterham
In a surprsing-but-expected bombshell, Caterham have announced that Jarno Trulli has been replaced by Vitaly Petrov for the 2012 season.
Last Updated: 18/02/12 6:50pm
Just a month before the new season begins, and a mere two weeks after the 2012 driver line-up was supposedly finalised, Caterham have announced that Jarno Trulli has been replaced by Vitaly Petrov.
Though the announcement will be seen as something as a bombshell, confirmation that Trulli has been jettisoned in favour of Petrov is both surprising and expected. Speculation has been rife throughout the winter that the Italian would lose his place to Petrov and the lucrative sponsorship the well-backed Russian brings with him as a considerable added bonus.
However, the timing is still somewhat curious, to put it mildly, given that Trulli tested the team's new car - the CT01 - last week during the first of only three pre-season test sessions and Petrov has been out of work and available since December when the Renault-turned-Lotus team dropped him in favour of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
At such a late stage, and with all the remaining seats taken for the new season, the news effectively enforces Trulli's retirement from the sport at the age of 37 and also means that this year's field will be without an Italian driver for the first time since 1973.
"We have reached agreement with Jarno to bring an end to our partnership with him, but he will always be part of our family. Now we want to integrate Vitaly as quickly as possible into the team, and 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 team in just over two years," confirmed Team Principal Tony Fernandes.
"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."
Trulli, understandably, struck a disconsolate tone in the team's media briefing.
"I want to take this chance to thank Tony, Kamarudin, SM Nasarudin, Riad, Mike and everyone in the team for the two seasons we had together. From zero we built up and established a solid F1 team. I'm really proud to have been part of it. I understand the decision the team has made and I want to wish to the whole team the very best of luck for the season ahead," the Italian was quoted as saying.
Equally understandably, Petrov's reaction to the news of his late reprieve was in sharp contrast to Trulli's downcast tone.
"This is a very exciting day for me. I would like to thank Tony, Kamarudin Meranun and SM Nasarudin for giving me the chance to join a team that made its F1 debut at the same time as me, and has grown from one of the new teams to a serious force for future honours. 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.
"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. I would also like to take this chance to thank all my fans and partners for their support and their patience."
The news is bound, rightly or wrongly, to be linked to Caterham's announcement on Thursday night that Mike Gascoyne - perceived as being a strong supporter of Trulli - had been appointed Caterham Group CTO with immediate effect.
It also brought a pointed response from Trulli's fellow F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello, who was recently replaced at Williams by Bruno Senna.
"Sad to see that Trulli won't be on the 2012 grid...money is dominating everything," the Brazilian wrote on Twitter.
Click here for Vitaly Petrov gallery.