Just over a week ago, Vitaly Petrov was being hailed as the final part of this year's Caterham F1 jigsaw, but his place in the line-up was always dependent on financial support.
That crucial part now appears to be missing from his bid as manager Oksana Kosachenko has revealed that talks with the Leafield team have stalled, opening the door for the likes of Giedo van der Garde, Luiz Razia and Bruno Senna to make late plays for the seat alongside Charles Pic.
Petrov was apparently favoured over either of his rivals due to his greater experience, something the team saw as crucial having prised Pic away from Marussia after just one year in the top flight [ see separate story
], but Caterham technical chief Mike Gascoyne has also told Crash.net
that the squad's financial health is also going to play a part in its decision on drivers, hence Heikki Kovalainen's exit after three years' sterling service [ see separate story
Of course, the report, which appeared in Russia's R-Sport
on Sunday, could be a ruse to extract the final drops of sponsorship from the few backers determined to see Petrov on the grid this year, but Kosachenko – who claimed, mid-2012, that Petrov was unlikely to be back in F1 this year – admitted that there was still a lot of work to do before her charge was secure.
“At the moment, there are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “There are too many things that need to be sorted out. We haven't managed to find new sponsors, and I don't know where the media got that suggestion from.”
Kosachenko has openly admitted that Petrov has the smallest budget of any driver bidding for the Caterham vacancy, but also insists that talks are up in the air as the team finalises its reshaping following Tony Fernandes' decision to stand down as team principal towards the end of the 2012 campaign.
“We're at the waiting stage, which is linked to the team's restructuring,” she confirmed, “We completely depend on them and can't speed anything up.”
Petrov was the last name to drop into place for the 2012 season, but this year finds himself facing opposition from the likes of Caterham reserve van der Garde, GP2 Series runner-up Razia and former HRT/Lotus/Williams driver Senna, all of whom reportedly bring bigger financial backing but less F1 experience. Ironically, it was Petrov's late pass on Pic in the Brazilian GP that allowed Caterham to secure tenth place in the constructors' standings, and the prize money that comes with it.
That was initially thought to have helped the Russian's cause, at the expense of Kovalainen, who told his management company not to actively seek sponsors as he didn't wish to labelled a 'pay driver' after seven years in the top flight. Petrov, however, has other advantages to offer Caterham, which does not yet include Russia amongst its markets.