Vitaly Petrov is the 'preferred choice' to continue to partner Robert Kubica at the newly-rebranded Lotus Renault GP outfit in F1 2011, the team has conceded – but first, the young Russian rookie must be willing to 'accept change' in order to improve his consistency.
Fast-but-wild during the course of his maiden campaign of top flight competition with Renault F1 this year, Petrov delighted his employers with his combative spirit, raw speed and never-say-die determination – but frustrated them in equal measure with his seeming inability to reproduce that kind of form weekend-in, weekend-out, with his qualifying pace in particular a cause for concern.
That has meant there has still been no confirmation of whether or not the 26-year-old is likely to be granted a stay-of-execution at the Enstone-based operation into a second season, with the names of five or six other drivers bandied about in recent weeks and months even as potential replacements. One key factor in Vitaly's favour is his nationality, and by extension therefore, the prospect of attracting lucrative Russian sponsorship deals – for a team not exactly awash with cash, a potent argument indeed.
Vyborg Shipyard, Flagman vodka and car maker LADA all came on-board in 2010 as a direct result of Petrov's presence inside the team, and new part-owner Proton – which has bought into Renault F1 in the guise of Group Lotus, now holding a 25 per cent stake – is undeniably eager to tap into the Russian market.
According to Malaysian state news agency Bernama
, Proton stands to 'benefit immensely...by gaining access to Russia's automotive market and advanced automotive technologies owned by Genii [Capital].' Gérard Lopez's Luxembourg-based private investment firm that controls the other 75 per cent of the team is 'offering Proton the ability to leverage on its existing business relationships in Russia and other parts of the world as a means to expand [our] global reach', confirmed a statement from the Far-Eastern manufacturer.
The key for Proton is the Genii Capital-owned venture capital group Mangrove Capital Partners – and the key to that, clearly, is Petrov, without whom the Russian links would likely disappear as rapidly as they materialised. Group Lotus CEO Dany Bahar has admitted that the 'Vyborg Rocket' is looking increasingly sure of retaining his coveted seat.
“[The Russian link] opens up a lot of possibilities for us, but mainly for our shareholders,” he told The Daily Telegraph
, adding in an interview with the BBC
: “Our preferred choice is Vitaly Petrov; I hope that the team will be able to announce by the end of the year the final line-up.”
Those sentiments are corroborated by Lopez himself, who suggests that provided the former GP2 Series runner-up ramps up his commitment to ironing out the flaws in his form, then he will have ably stated his case to an extension of his contract.
“We believe he has got the speed, he just doesn't have the consistency,” he reflected in an interview with Reuters
, echoing Bahar in describing Petrov as 'our favourite choice'. “Part of the discussion is that he needs to accept a certain change in life; he needs to accept to move to the UK and be close to the factory.
“He needs to accept to be in an English-speaking environment all the time, and if he accepts those things – and if we believe that through those things he can deliver consistency – then there's no question about who is going to be our second driver.”
One other man who has been linked with the vacant cockpit alongside Kubica is Ferrari's Felipe Massa, given the close relationship between the Brazilian's manager Nicolas Todt and Bahar and his own troubled season at the Scuderia
next to double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in 2010.