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Interview: Petrov on Caterham, 2012 and why pay driver tag is undeserved
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Feb 2012   |  6:06 pm GMT  |  65 comments

On Friday afternoon, fresh from the announcement that he had would be replacing Jarno Trulli in Caterham’s line-up for the new season, Vitaly Petrov took time out to speak to JA on F1 about his new deal and his aims for 2012.

The Russian explains why he thinks he’s joined a team that’s going places and why it’s about time that people stopped labelling him as purely a pay driver.


First of all, congratulations on the Caterham drive. It must be a relief to finally have your future sorted and be definitely on the grid for 2012?
“Thank you very much. Of course, it was [a] hard winter but then finally we did this.”

There had obviously been some speculation for a while that you might join Caterham, so how did the deal and your talks with Tony Fernandes and his partners come about?
“It was a very good chat with them but we needed to sort out some different details. But then finally we did this deal and we came together.”

Is it just a one-year contract?
I can’t comment on this at the moment, need to wait.”

What have been your first impressions of Caterham so far? You’ve been at the factory today for a seat-fitting…
“I think they did a big improvement the last two years so now they have a new car, new factory from this summer, so they are moving on the right direction.

“I think this was the main target for them and also you can see these people want to achieve at least something in Formula 1, not to be just one of the teams. They want to achieve good results in the next years so this is why it’s quite interesting to work with them.”

How did the seat-fitting go?
“Actually we still continue to do this, we’ve still not finished it. But I hope to get it fixed very well.”

You missed the first pre-season test at Jerez, so you’ll only have four days or so in the car before the first race. Will that be enough to get up to speed with the new car and systems and everything?
“Yeah, the systems are absolutely the same, it’s just new steering wheel, new car, new people and it will be a bit more difficult to adjust to be part of this team.

“But now all looks very well and I don’t see there are any problems because the first test anyway it was just checking some controls, but now it will be proper testing in Barcelona.”

You’re obviously replacing a very experienced driver in Jarno Trulli, how do you feel about replacing him and stepping into his shoes?
“To be honest, I’d prefer to not talk about another driver and about Jarno because it’s not good [to do so]. It’s not good for me, it’s not good for them and you never know what they want to hear from you or things like this. I think other people can talk about this, but not me. My job is driving.”

One driver who you are going to get to know very well is Heikki Kovalainen. How well do you know him already and are you looking forward to working with him?
“He lives not far from where I live in Russia – our countries are very close to each other – so I don’t see any problems to work with him. I hope we will work together quite well.”

As you mentioned, Caterham is targeting a good step forward this year and to get onto the back of the midfield and score its points in F1. How confident are you having spoken to people like Tony and the technical team that that’s going to be possible?
“This team has not stayed in one level, in one place, they’re always moving forward. They always try to bring some more people, they bring new parts to the car, they buy a new factory, they buy the KERS [system] – they knew that [the car with] KERS is five tenths quicker than without KERS.

“They want to not be just part of Formula 1, but they want to achieve some results in future. This is why I’m quite happy with what they are doing and together if they will continue the same way, in this team [I see] quite a big future.”

So do you see it, as Heikki has done over the last couple of years, somewhere where you can stay and grow with the team?
“Yeah, of course together we can push the team to be more professional. Heikki has already done this, but I’ll try to help to do the same.”

You’re going to be entering your third season of Formula 1 so what are the areas that you’re still looking to improve as a driver?
“I think you can improve everything little by little. These kinds of things, it will never be perfect, so you need to be always working on something – on speed of reaction, on stability, on everything. Even to talk to the press you need some time to understand what you must say or what you must do.”

Since you were first confirmed as a Renault driver in 2010, people have perhaps unfairly continued to label you as a pay driver. Does that remain a source of annoyance for you and if so do you feel you still need to prove to people you deserve a place in F1?
“You know in 2010, I was in need really to show people I came here not for just pay [reasons]. But I showed a few good races in 2010, but it looked like it was not enough for them. But then I think in 2011 they are not allowed to talk anymore about this because the pay driver cannot achieve their first podium and then to finish so many times on the points.

“I think this is not right to talk about [these] things. Also [to] be quicker than Nick [Heidfeld] and be quicker than Bruno [Senna] and other drivers. So I think we need to forget about [suggestions that] we came just for pay. I know the money everywhere is questioned, not just for us even for Trulli, who’s also an experienced guy, and then Heidfeld is also an experienced guy, but he’s not quick enough or things like this.

“But I think after [my performances in] 2011 I must say I’m not a pay driver here [in F1].”

2011 of course started really well with your first podium finish, as you mention, and some other good results and then Renault’s development sort of went off the boil a bit and it was a difficult end to the year. Did you learn a lot last year through the highs and lows?
“Of course 2010 and 2011 you cannot forget because I learned so much, it was completely different cars, it was KERS, it was different tyres, it was a different system in the car with which I was working.

“I learnt really from them and without them it would be very difficult for me to be here now in Caterham. So now I have quite a good [level of] experience from the last two years.”

Were you disappointed though with the way your Renault career finished or are you just looking to draw a line under that now and move on to 2012?
“Like I said already before, I don’t want to even talk about things [in the past] anymore because what is done is done. My life is not stopping, my life is moving. I’m happy and I’d love stay in Caterham and I’m glad they believe I can be a good driver here. It’s a pity Lotus doesn’t understand this and decided to take other drivers, but I just want to continue my work.”

How have Russia and your fans back home reacted to the Caterham news?
“Yeah, it’s still big news there. A lot of phone calls, a lot of messages, I’m reading a lot of press about this. I know it’s already [on] some TV shows… so quite interesting and Formula 1 is getting bigger and bigger.”

Just looking at the season as a whole coming up, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull rather walked away with it last year, but do you think because the regulations are relatively stable the field can close up?
“We will see but it still looks like Red Bull are the strongest team, but didn’t open [the car’s] full potential [at Jerez]. And the rest of the teams I don’t want to comment because you never know, it just was the first test and I was not there so for me it’s even more difficult to speak about this. So we are just waiting for the first race and then we will know.”

And just finally, what do you feel would be a good target to set for your first year at Caterham?
“I can’t tell you at the moment because I have zero laps on this car. So we need some time to understand how our car is quick or not. I think we need to just focus on our job; we don’t need to put a target to be at the end of the year in the top 10 or things like this because it is very, very difficult.

“I think we need to just have a clear understanding of what we are doing, what we can do and we need just time and to work very hard to achieve this.”

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laughing at all the people saying his not in the same league as others, they are all in F1 !

youve still gota know what your doing to drive one of these cars around within split seconds of the top teams, a great driver would also do well in an underperforming car ( renault). give him a real car and we will see, all this driving in the middle of the pack will hone his technical driving skills. Id have Petrov over massa at ferrari anyday 🙂


@andy c.

i myself dont care that he is a pay driver. i understand the nature of business in sport. epecially F1.

what i do care about is any driver claiming they are NOT a pay driver when clearly they are.


I have to say I’m pretty dissapointed that fans keep going on about Petrov as a pay driver.

Most drivers in mid/low teams bring some type of funding of sorts. Its part of the sport.

Petrov has proven to be worth a shot in F1, and clearly the fact he brings sponsorship/the opportunity to bring in funding through other interested parties has to be a positive.

Do people label Alonso as a paydriver becuase he brings with him a lot of Santander funding.

Give Petrov a chance, he’s had two decent seasons in F1. Give the guy a break. And stop the hating.


Anyone who states Petrov is no paydriver should ask himself: “Would he have got the seat if he had not brought the money?” And the answer is: No.


Only tooooooooooooo happy to hear he’s replacing the truly incompetent Trulli


the pay driver tag IS CLEARLY deserved! Fact: Trulli would still have that drive if Petrov could not bring money. This is the exact definition of a pay driver. he may be slightly better than average, bust Caterham of gotten rid of one slightly better than average driver for another. Why? Do i really need to answer that?


Well I Guess it is 50-50 on talent vs Money. Petrov is not a bad guy and his mistake is that he is more error Prone thereby leaving a lot to improve on the consistency front. Now the question is Petrov quotes ” We have KERS, We have more team personnel….” So this we refers to the money with which all this came around?.


Good for Petrov, good for Caterham, looks like they’re both on the way up.


not a pay driver???!!! OK Comrade, let’s see you drive.


The writing has been on the wall for him for a long time. With so many decent drivers going into 2012 without a drive, the only shock was that they even resigned him in the first place.

Petrov, Sutil, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Barrichello, Chandhok, and they’re just the ones to have lost a seat recently that I’d put in a car before him, never mind the queue of younger drivers trying to get into the sport.

Trulli had his chances, and he’s a decent driver, but I’m sure that in a few years he’ll be remembered by 90% of fans purely for the “Trulli Train”.

If I’m honest, he probably shouldn’t have even been in the 20112 season. They already have an experienced lead driver in Heikki, who thoroughly outperformed Trulli.


. who says a pay driver cant have talent and luck(exactly what he has had in 2011). Russia paid big money to get u into the sport to Renault, they didnt really want u. they got sponsors now and so far they have a fast car. Caterham doing the same thing!! [mod]


I wonder if we will see Air Asia opening a new route to Russia. The Team Lotus to Caterham name change was closely linked with new slots in Malaysia was it not?


I think Petrov deserves his place more than Trulli. People say he’s a pay driver and say that this is a bad thing.. Let’s see..

Firstly, who here, if you had a lot of money and was reasonably quick in a racing car would pay for a seat? Everyone.

Who here would then keep up with Kubica from time to time? Nobody.

He’s not slow, he was runner up to Hulk in GP2 who dominated that season, he wasn’t far off Kubica’s pace and I don’t think Kovalainen will get it all his own way at Caterham. Petrov will be more consistent than Trulli even if not as quick over one lap.

I’m happy for him, well done Petrov.


Lets face it,if Petrov didnt have his sponsorship millions, he wouldnt be anywhere near F1. Same goes for Senna who did absolutly nothing in the junior ranks. Caterham are a new team that needs continuity and experience from their drivers, why get rid of Trulli. The same goes for Barrichello at williams. Breaking into F1 should be through talent not the size of your wallet.


Senna did absolutely nothing in junior series?! He came second in GP2 in 2008 – that’s more than Kobayashi and many other drivers did.


Kobayashi finished 2nd in Formula Toyota in 2003, won both the Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Renault 2.0 Italy in 2005 and WON the GP2 Asia series for Dams in 2008 whilst testing for Toyota. I have nothing against Bruno Senna, the point im trying to make is that he has had a very average (poor) junior career and is at Williams because he has paid to be there. Kobayashi (your example) earned his drive.



Also look at a highlights reel from last year of each driver to see Kobayashi’s skill compared to Senna’s.

Kobayashi was one of the most exciting drivers to watch in the whole championship as some of his passes were as brilliant as they were audacious.


exactly, money has become more important than talent in all forms of motorsport


Petrov against Alonso, Massa on Hamilton lead to Vettel championship hat-trick. Why is Massa still there?


The guy who screwed Alonso’s championship is back again.

That’s just a bad news.

I think, Caterham made a bad decision just like Williams. Taking experienced drivers out from their team and replacing them with some others is really bad.


How did he screwd Alonsos championship? Was he supposed to just move over?



If anyone should be pointed at it’s Chris Dyer or whoever it was that made Alonso’s strategic calls .


Interesting the lack of criticism going the way of Caterham over this. Not only have they ditched a driver four weeks before the start of a season but they have replaced him with a pay driver.

If it was Williams or HRT this page would have 300+ posts of how terrible they are for taking the cash.

Shows you what a good PR team can do for you.


I think the fuss with Williams was more about who they got rid of (Rubens) than the act itself. Popular guy, and him going before his 20th season was always going to be unpopular. As for HRT, do people actually even care about them? I’m just surprised they’re still in there, to be honest.


He’s a pay driver who’s also decent, so this is a good decision for Caterham, who clearly know Kovaleinen is an asset that needs to be challenged, and convinced he’s the team leader.

Petrov’s also in a better mood than Trulli (who seemed to be in a constant pout—it must be tough to be an F1 driver and own a winery and a hotel, after all), and he’s also a marketing asset, expanding Caterham outside of Europe. I bet Caterham sells more of their cars in Russia than in Italy, after all. That’s definitely gone into the thinking behind this decision.

If this decision was purely about performance, I think Sutil, Alguersuari, Luizzi and Heidfeld would be higher up the list than Petrov. But this is F1. It’s more complicated than that.


Welcome to Caterham Family..


I’m happy for Petrov. He’s not brilliant but I don’t think he’s that bad. At Renault (or Genii, the team will never be Lotus to me) under Bouillier was never going to work.

Also English isn’t Petrov’s first language so his interviews might sometimes come across as a little clumsy to us, prob best not to read too much into it.


You could say sponsors and drivers should be compared to eggs and chickens.

When is a pay driver no longer a pay driver? When he is a good (successful) enough for a team to want him for the results he brings… one of which is the attention of big sponsors.

F1 is a business which cannot survive without drivers AND sponsors. The difference is that lower order teams are more desperate for the next sponsor whereas the leading teams are more desperate for good drivers who will retain the big sponsors.

Long gone are the days of the true pay drivers who had or could attract money in order to get a drive regardless of talent.

In the case of Petrov I am sure Caterham’s existing sponsors had as much to do with him getting the drive as any direct sponsorship he brings. Petrov is a dream for any marketing department looking at Russia.

Sadly for Trulli he appears to have lost the ability to attract positive publicity making Tony Fernandes decision pretty much a no-brainer. By contrast Heiki has delivered solid results – one of which has been the consistent out-qualifying of a team mate who had been widely regards as a superb qualifier.


Retired Jarno Trulli blame the French government, which is too zealously supports its pay-drivers.

In the press somehow raise the question of Russia’s financial strength, but is silent the fact that four French pay-drivers suddenly and simultaneously appeared in F1, and with a solid sponsorship. Four to one — it is not just a coincidence.


I think this is a smart move from a purely financial sense. Petrov will bring money into the team, which, is no bad thing for a company trying to crawl it’s way up the grid.

However, for a team that could be relying on a few points here and there, a driver who is often erratic as stated, and occasionally clumsy perhaps isn’t the wisest choice. I would rather have a safe pair of hands to bring the car home.

However, I believe all of these options will have been weighed up. Through all the controversy that Caterham has been through, they have shown to be methodical and likeable characters, and I look forward to supporting them this season. As my B team, anyway.


I must admit, if I was a team principal, I would prefer a driver who will occasionally bring me top 10 finishes and possible podiums with a few crashes on the way, rather than a driver who will consistently get me 11th, 12th or 13th.

I was watching NASCAR the other day and one of the commentators was saying how one team owner said to his driver “do whatever you have to to win this race and if you bring me back just the steering wheel then that’s ok”.

Of course you want to be as safe as possible, but sometimes you need to take risks which will either pay off or end up with the driver hitching a ride back to the pits.


he thanked his sponsors get the drive then said he’s not a pay driver, go figure.

he comes across as a bit negative/grumpy to me


This is Petrov’s thinking: Even though I am a paid driver… I want everyone to know I got the seat because I am so talented.

This is everyone else’s thinking: You got the seat PRECISELY because your fiancial backers paid handsomely for it!

Note: If skill had anything to do with it Petrov wouldn’t be on your third team (bottom feeder at best)in 3 yrs.


I’m glad to see Petrov has a seat for 2012. While I have a lot of respect for Jarno, I found him boring to watch and listen to last season. Whether or not Petrov will be more exciting in 2012 will be determined in time. But IMO change is rarely a bad thing.

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