As rumoured, Jarno Trulli has been replaced as race driver at the Caterham F1 team, with Lotus Renault refugee Vitaly Petrov taking his place alongside Heikki Kovalainen.
Much has been made of Trulli's position since last summer, when he was left out of the Team Lotus line-up for the German Grand Prix, ostensibly because of a power steering system with which he did not get on. An announcement confirming an extension to his contract, made at Monza, therefore came as something of a surprise, but only added to the conjecture as it failed to state categorically that the Italian veteran was being retained to a race seat. Since then, almost every available talent has been linked to the ride alongside Kovalainen, although Petrov has been the favourite to replace Trulli should the team take the plunge.
The move takes place with immediate effect, and Petrov was at the Caterham factory in Hingham today [Friday 17 February] for a seat fitting ahead of his first run with the team at the second pre-season test in Barcelona next week. Trulli conducted the final day of the opening test, at Jerez last week, but even that added to the speculation over his future after Kovalainen completed days one and two, and new reserve Giedo van der Garde was given the wheel for day three. Although Trulli remained for a promotional filming day on Saturday - prompting a new wave of denials over his possible replacement - it appears that Petrov's roubles may have spoken.
"I understand the decision the team has made and I want to wish [them] the very best of luck for the season ahead,” Trulli, a veteran of 253 GP starts, said in a statement issued by Caterham, “I want to take this chance to thank Tony [Fernandes], Kamarudin [Meranun], SM Nasarudin, Riad [Asmat], Mike [Gascoyne] 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."
Team owner Fernandes, a man whose involvement in Premiership football has shown that he is not afraid of taking action if he believes it will improve the lot of his team, insists that it was not an easy decision to replace Trulli with Petrov, but confirmed that business had to take precedence over personal loyalties.
"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," he confirmed, “I 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. 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 F1 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.
“We have reached agreement with Jarno to bring an end to our partnership with him, but he will always be part of our family. Now we want to integrate Vitaly as quickly as possible into the team, and we will do everything we can to welcome him in, give him a car he can use to showcase his skills, and keep up the rate of development that has seen us go from an empty factory with just four employees to a fully established F1 team in just over two years.
“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."