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Jarno Trulli loses Caterham F1 seat to Vitaly Petrov; Gascoyne moves up and over

February 20, 2012

G.M. Suvorin won the first Russian Grand Prix in a Benz 1913.

On Friday, it was revealed that Vitaly Petrov will replace Jarno Trulli at Caterham F1 Team (formerly Lotus) with immediate effect.

Petrov who spent the previous two seasons with Renault (now Lotus) will partner Heikki Kovalainen as the Hingham-based squad aim for their first points in Formula 1 since emerging in 2010.

The Russian registered thirteen points finishes since making his debut in 2010 and while Petrov showed occasional bouts of speed, he was often criticised for his inconsistent performances.
Petrov’s first run in the CT01 will come at testing in Barcelona on Tuesday, after having a seat fitting on Friday.

The change, so late in the pre-season, does seem somewhat harsh on Trulli, but with rumours of the switch hanging around the team for some time, it did not come as much of a surprise.
Although hampered on occasion by faltering hydraulic systems (especially in 2010), Trulli has repeatedly been second best to Kovalainen in their time together.

There were occasions last year when Trulli gave the impression of a driver who was simply making up the numbers, signalled primarily by a lack of interest when appearing on screen. It means the opening Grand Prix at Melbourne will be the first without an Italian competitor since the 1996 German Grand Prix*.
In the Caterham release, Trulli said:

“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.”

Caterham F1 Team Principal Tony Fernandes also got several words in:

“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.”

So far, so good…

“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.”

And there it is. If one thing was clear on Friday – judging by fan reactions at least – there was disappointment with the realisation that Petrov is most likely bringing a hell of a lot of money to Caterham than talent. A bit harsh, considering Petrov is a decent little racer, just not fantastic.
Not only that, the Russian market may soon become a crucial one for Caterham Cars as well. Indeed, Russia remains an important market for Formula 1 in general, especially with the nation’s first Formula 1 Grand Prix** due to run in 2014.

While many parts of the country are still relatively (see also very) poor, it is a growing economic power in the region, although it is probably best not to ask where the money comes from. There are a growing number of young Russian drivers populating various feeder categories; however few appear to be genuine Formula 1 prospects, bar Red Bull junior driver Daniil Kvyat.
Other notables include Mikhail Aleshin, who won the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 Series, but fell by the wayside early in his 2011 GP2 campaign due to lack of budget. Marussia Motors development driver Ivan Lukashevich will be spending his third year in GP3 this season, although he has yet to score a point.

In another move that should shock absolutely no one, Mike Gascoyne has been announced as the Chief Technical Officer at Caterham Group.

When Tony Fernandes bought Caterham Cars last April, announcing a pair territorial headquarters in the months following (China and India), alongside Caterham-related projects that to run in Asia, it was a matter of time before the entrepreneur began to spread the love.
Gascoyne new position will see him taking responsibility for Caterham Group’s motorsport initiatives, reporting to CEO Riad Asmat.
His new role with the Caterham Group will have Gascoyne overseeing Caterham Cars, Composites and the recently launched Technology and Innovation departments alongside Mark Edwards, Phil Hall and Ansar Ali respectively.

The Englishman seemed reasonably happy with his new position in the company:

“This is a very proud moment for me. My new role will now give me the chance to help drive value across the whole group through the creation and delivery of new projects in all the sectors we are already working in, and opening up new opportunities for each of the Group’s companies to embrace.
“I am looking forward to working even more closely with Mark Edwards at Caterham Technology & Innovation, Phil Hall at Caterham Composites and Ansar Ali at Caterham Cars. This is a big challenge but one I am extremely excited about and I want to thank our shareholders for this opportunity.”

Mark Smith replaces Gascoyne as Technical Director with the Caterham F1 Team with immediate effect, leading the squad’s technical division day-to-day and will also be appearing at more races throughout the year.

* {note 1}
Technically, Italy’s Giovanni Lavaggi entered the German Grand Prix for Minardi having temporarily weighed Giancarlo Fisichella down with a pile of cash; however the journeyman racer – famously known as “Johnny Carwash” – failed to qualify inside the 107% rule.
Setting a time some 1.9 seconds slower than teammate Pedro Lamy, Lavaggi fell 0.2 seconds outside of the qualifying mark and was not allowed to start.

** {note 2}
This is not to be confused with the two previous Russian Grand Prix events, which took place in St Petersburg in 1913 and ’14. Russian-native G.M. Suvorin won the inaugural race in a Benz 29, while Germany’s Willy Scholl claimed the follow up eleven months later behind the wheel of a Benz 55.
Initially the First World War brought a halt to motorsport in the country, although the beginnings of the Russian Revolution in the early months of 1917 and the ensuing political mess that was the USSR would suffocate any hopes for a race for over sixty-five years.
Attempts to reinstate a Grand Prix in the USSR in the early 1980s led to nothing; however there was enough interest behind the eastern block to see the Hungarian Grand Prix come to fruition in the summer of 1986***.

*** {note 2b}
That is painfully brief version of what happened. Kind of.

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