Although the team had Jarno Trulli signed for the coming season, it has announced instead that the F1 veteran has been replaced by Vitaly Petrov, the Russian driver recently axed by Lotus – which is, somewhat ironically, the same team with which Caterham was embroiled in a naming rights dispute. The benefit of adding Petrov – a promising but largely unproven driver – to a small team over the experienced Trulli is that Petrov brings significant sponsorship money with him.
Trulli's dismissal leaves F1 without any Italian drivers on the grid for the first time since the early 1970s. The 37-year-old former grand prix winner was joined on the grid for much of his 15-year career in F1 by Giancarlo Fisichella until his effective retirement to a role as Ferrari test driver two seasons ago. Trulli insists he will continue racing, whether in F1 or elsewhere. We hear Pirelli might have use for his talents, but wouldn't be surprised to see him find his way into another racing series altogether. Follow the jump for the official announcement.
In related news, remaining holdout HRT has confirmed that Narain Karthikeyan will join longtime McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa in its line-up for the coming season, sealing the roster for 2012 – that is, assuming no further contracts are canceled at the last minute.
Hingham, UK - 17 February 2012
Caterham F1 Team has today announced that Vitaly Petrov has joined the team as race driver, replacing Jarno Trulli with immediate effect. The Russian was at the Anglo-Malaysian team's factory in Hingham on Friday 17th February for a seat fitting ahead of his first run with the team at the second pre-season test in Barcelona, 21st to 24th February.
Team Principal Tony Fernandes: "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.
"I also 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. 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. 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 Formula 1 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 Formula 1 team in just over two years."
Vitaly Petrov: "This is a very exciting day for me. I would like to thank Tony, Kamarudin Meranun and SM Nasarudin for giving me the chance to join a team that made its F1 debut at the same time as me, and has grown from one of the new teams to a serious force for future honours. The passion and spirit that Tony and the whole team have to keep moving forwards is infectious, and I am honoured to be able to join them and play my part in helping the team mount a serious challenge to the teams ahead in 2012 and for many seasons to come.
"I have been training hard all winter and am ready to get back into the cockpit and go to work. From what I have seen already, our new car is another good step forward from 2011 and now I cannot wait to see how it feels when we get to Barcelona. I would also like to take this chance to thank all my fans and partners for their support and their patience."
Jarno Trulli: "I want to take this chance to thank Tony, Kamarudin, SM Nasarudin, Riad, Mike 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. I understand the decision the team has made and I want to wish to the whole team the very best of luck for the season ahead."