Veteran Italian driver Jarno Trulli has today reacted to increasing rumours in F1 circles that his Caterham seat is under threat from Lotus Renault refugee Vitaly Petrov.
The 37 year old has a firm contract for 2012, but has faced question marks about it since it was signed, with Daniel Ricciardo being linked with the drive at the end of last season.
More recently Petrov, who brings backing from Russian sponsors, has been linked with the seat since he was dropped by LRGP. It is clear why someone like Petrov would appeal as he might offer similar levels of performance, if not in qualifying then maybe in the race, and would contribute rather than draw from, team funds.
Although rumours have also linked Adrian Sutil with the drive, the German, who is out at Force India and about to face trial in Germany at the end of this month, is not believed to be under consideration.
Reacting to the rumours on Petrov, Trulli has come out fighting, “On Monday I have a seat fitting at the factory. The team has said nothing to me and until I hear something then the situation is as before,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport today.
Trulli believes that Caterham has grown a lot since its difficult first season in 2010 and now stands on the verge of competitiveness because of the arrival of big name engineers like Mark Smith and John Iley.
“I have faith,” he adds, “In the course of last season I saw a lot of improvement. The step we took was large, even if it didn’t look like that from the outside. Now we need another.”
It’s an important moment for Italian motorsport too, because if Trulli is sidelined, as is looking increasingly likely, there would not be an Italian driver on the F1 grid, which is hard to believe given the country’s place in the sport.
There are well funded young drivers from various countries knocking on doors, but with Italy in economic and political crisis, it seems that Italian corporate backing is thin on the ground.
It’s a long way from my first season in F1 in 1990 when there were no fewer than nine Italian drivers in F1.
The team has confirmed that it will launch its new car on January 26th, on the cover of F1 Racing magazine. This would make it the first team to launch a 2012 model.