Caterham has this morning announced that Lotus Renault exile Vitaly Petrov has replaced Italian veteran Jarno Trulli in its race line-up for 2012, appearing to effectively put an end to the latter’s 15-year Formula 1 career.
Speculation had been doing the rounds for weeks suggesting that Trulli’s position was not as secure as the contract renewal the team announced it had signed with the 37-year-old former Renault and Toyota driver had initially appeared last September.
With Petrov having been released by Renault/Lotus following two seasons at the end of last year in favour of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, the Russian’s name had been strongly mooted and on Friday morning Caterham confirmed a change had been made.
Team principal Tony Fernandes said: “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.
“When we first met it was immediately clear that Vitaly understands and shares our vision for how we want our team to grow. As the first Russian to race in F1 he carries the hopes of a huge nation with ease and his talents, 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.”
Petrov, meanwhile, says he is excited to be joining Caterham and is confident that in its third year of competition the team can start challenging the back end of the midfield on a consistent basis.
“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,” he 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. I would also like to take this chance to thank all my fans and partners for their support and their patience.”
Fernandes also praised Trulli for the Italian’s role in having helped the team grow over the past two seasons, but admitted that the decision to draft in Petrov had been to “ensure that we give fresh impetus across the whole team and with a realistic eye on the global economic market,” the team now being able to tap into the portfolio of sponsors that Petrov brings with him being the only Russian in F1.
“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 knew that when he joined us it would be a very different environment to where he had been before, and when we gave him the package he wanted he absolutely shone,” Fernandes said.
“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 that 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 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 endured something of a dismal 2011 as near season-long problems with his car’s power steering system meant he was unable to challenge the impressively consistent Heikki Kovalainen on a regular basis, his once stellar qualifying pace taking a particular hit.
With all the other seats on the grid now taken, the 2004 Monaco GP winner tooks to be following fellow veteran Rubens Barrichello out of the F1 exit door.
Trulli, who did drive the new CT01 on the final day of the Jerez test, was quoted in the same Caterham press release as saying: “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.”
Trulli’s departure comes a day after Mike Gascoyne, a staunch ally of the Italian driver having previously worked with him at three different teams, would move away from the day-to-day running of the F1 squad’s technical department to take on a wider role within the expanding Caterham Group. You can read more on that story here.