Vitaly Petrov's position as Russia's F1 flagbearer has suffered another blow after it was revealed that he has lost the support of the national government, one of his biggest financial backers.
Whether this is the setback that caused Petrov's manager, Oksana Kosachenko, to suggest earlier this week that the Caterham driver could disappear from the grid next season, or a fresh blow, isn't clear but, without the support of some of the countries biggest companies, the task of keeping his seat becomes a lot tougher. Petrov is the only Russian driver to appear in the top flight, despite others such as Mikael Aleshin hovering on the fringes, and has raced for Renault and Caterham during his three years, but counts heavily on the likes of car maker Lada and Russian Helicopters, both owned at least in part by the government, to pay his way.
He was back in Russia during the recent summer break, carrying out responsibilities for Russian Helicopters, as he revealed during Thursday's press conference at Spa, but it is now thought to have heard that they will not continue backing him beyond this season.
“We have now lost government support,” Kosachenko told RIA Novosti
, “There's never been interest from [private] sponsors. I've always said that it's impossible to find sponsors in Russia for a project like F1. When there was support at the top level of government, this project worked commendably.”
Ironically, even the main private sector sponsorship that Petrov does bring to Caterham, from chemical company Sibur, brings with it close links to the Kremlin.
“I don't rule out a scenario in which we have to end this Russian driver's competition in F1,” Kosachenko continued, backtracking somewhat on previous claims that she was in negotiation with at least three other teams with a view to extending Petrov's stay in the top flight [see separate story
Petrov's dilemma has come to light at the same time as the Caterham team has been taking delight in announcing a couple of new sponsors, most notable aerospace group EADS, whose logos will appear on the team's CT01s from this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, along with those of subsidiary Airbus. EADS also owns helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter.
“I am absolutely delighted that EADS has joined our team and I want to welcome them into our F1 family as official partner," team principal Tony Fernandes commented, "EADS joins not only our F1 team, but the whole Caterham Group as we evolve from an F1 team into the wider automotive and specialist consultancy service that the various arms of Caterham Group represent.
"The partnership with EADS and Caterham F1 Team is the first of a number of exciting announcements we will be making about projects that various arms of the Caterham Group are working with EADS on. Right now, Caterham Composites and Caterham Technology and Innovation are involved in programmes that utilise the specialist skills that both companies have in composite design and manufacturing, including a revolutionary lightweight aircraft seat and an in-flight entertainment system that will showcase the benefits composite materials provide on a global scale.
"This is a very exciting announcement and one that shows that world leading companies like EADS see the value that can be created from a partnership with Caterham Group and its various arms."