New Renault F1 signing Vitaly Petrov has revealed that contrary to popular belief, he did not bring with him any sponsorship from Russian companies to secure the vacant berth alongside Robert Kubica this year and become the first of his countrymen ever to join the grand prix grid – as Eric Boullier confirmed it was the 25-year-old's speed and talent, and not the size of his wallet, that sealed the deal.
Petrov was announced as Kubica's team-mate at the newly-managed Enstone-based outfit in F1 2010 at the launch of this season's R30 challenger in Valencia at the weekend [see separate story – click here
], and initial reports suggested the 2009 GP2 Series runner-up had brought with him as much as €15 million in backing from Russian multi-national corporations.
However, whilst acknowledging that he is in essence a 'pay driver' in that he will not be receiving a salary this year, Petrov explained that the money had come from personal sources rather than Russian sponsorship deals – but he hopes the breakthrough he has made in succeeding where the likes of countrymen Roman Rusinov and Sergei Zlobin failed will help to attract backing from his homeland too, in addition to boosting the chances of a Russian Grand Prix eventually being added to the annual F1 calendar.
“My father has given me the money to be here,” revealed the man who has the word 'Russia' emblazoned across his helmet visor. “It's just him, my manager and my father's friends – no-one else. The people in Russia must wake up to what has happened here, because we are in F1 without any sponsorship or any help. Now people will see us in Formula 1 and hopefully it will change things.
“This is what I've been trying to do. I've been telling people, 'We are Russia, a big country, and we must have a grand prix'. Now I am here, maybe people will try to do something.”
Petrov's agreement is currently for a single season with options for 2011 and 2012, and whilst Renault F1 team principal Boullier admitted that the 'Vyborg Rocket' will be helping to fund some seven per cent of the Oxfordshire operation's budget this year, the Frenchman assured that the man who led the fight to new Williams recruit Nico Hülkenberg for GP2 title glory in 2009 was chosen primarily based upon his promise and potential.
“We actually had [talks with] drivers who could have brought twice the amount Vitaly is bringing with him,” reasoned the ex-DAMS team manager. “We just put it simply; either we go for an experienced driver who, on paper, may help to bring back some points for the championship – which is very crucial – or we go for a young driver. One of the things that we wanted was to have a driver with strong sporting results. This is why Petrov was on the list.
“Obviously going through every criterion that we wanted, we had to decide at one stage – quite late honestly – [between] experience or gambling on youth. The choice of Vitaly was clearly because he has the speed and we believe he can do well. Definitely there is a risk because he is a young driver, but we also had to think in this process about the team's future.
“Strategically, he is Russian, which can open up a lot of new perspectives for Formula 1 – not just for Renault – for the future. That is part of the process to return the team to being successful.”
Besides, Petrov is inarguably in good company. Both Niki Lauda and the record-breaking Michael Schumacher effectively started out in F1 as 'pay drivers' – and between them, the Austrian and German went on to claim no fewer than ten world championship crowns.