Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go into space, and now almost half a century later his compatriot Vitaly Petrov is aiming to become the first Russian to break into F1 – and he reportedly has some €15 million as a bargaining tool in order to secure his spot on the grand prix grid.
There are officially four seats still remaining in the field for the rapidly-approaching F1 2010 campaign – with USF1 expected to reduce that to just three later this week, with the announcement of reigning double Argentine touring car champion José María López at the North Carolina-based outfit [see separate story – click here
] –and Petrov is keen to lay claim to one of them, with the vacant berths at Renault and the troubled Campos operation looking to be his most viable options.
Aside from being undeniably quick – he finished runner-up to new Williams F1 signing Nico Hülkenberg in the GP2 Series in 2009, and raced for Campos from 2007 until the end of the 2008/09 Asia Series, triumphing four times along the way – Petrov also has the advantage of coming from a nation that has never previously had a representative in the top flight, and as such has all manner of untapped sources of potential sponsorship.
According to German newspaper Bild
, the 25-year-old's backing comes primarily from the country's natural gas giant Gazprom and Moscow-based bank Sberbank – and the 'Vyborg Rocket' seemingly has his sights set principally on joining former Canadian Grand Prix-winner Robert Kubica at Renault.
“People say we're only looking at Petrov because he's bringing a lot of money,” Renault's new team principal Eric Boullier told ESPN
, “but he's not the richest driver we're talking to. We mustn't forget he came second in the GP2 championship in 2009. His talent alone is more than enough to secure him a Formula 1 drive.”
“Only six or seven top drivers earn real money,” added Petrov's manager Willi Weber, whose rather more illustrious client Michael Schumacher similarly made his F1 debut as a 'pay driver', contributing $200,000 to compete in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps for Jordan. “The others need to bring money and, when starting out, need to hold their career together – unless they are an exceptional talent.”