Formula 1: Should Vitaly Petrov Replace Jarno Trulli at Caterham?

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2012

YEONGAM-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 14:  Vitaly Petrov of Russia and Renault prepares to drive during practice for the Korean Formula One Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit on October 14, 2011 in Yeongam-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Speculation is mounting that Jarno Trulli's seat at Caterham—the team formerly known as Lotus—could be under threat from Vitaly Petrov.

The rumour first surfaced in late December.  Respected commentator and former driver Martin Brundle commented on Twitter (via Sky Sports):

Suspect Vitaly Petrov may re-emerge at Caterham F1 (formerly Team Lotus) in 2012.  Music has stopped, there'll be a mad scramble for seats.

The topic was pushed aside by the now-resolved saga of the second Williams seat, before returning with the news that Petrov was in talks with Caterham—reportedly for the third driver role.

However, after Trulli's disappointing 2011 season—and despite the Italian veteran signing a one-year contract extension to keep him at the team for 2012—the rumours continue that it may be a race seat the Russian is seeking. 

And sadly for Jarno, bringing Petrov in as his replacement would make a lot of sense.

Having promised much in his early career, a combination of poor luck, lack of opportunity and his own limitations restricted Trulli to a single race win from 252 starts—Monaco in 2004.

Though over a single lap he could be blisteringly quick, he struggled to maintain the pace over the course of a whole race.  "Trulli trains"—a line of faster cars stuck close behind the Italian—were a regular feature of Grands Prix for many years.

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Now 37, Trulli can't even claim to be a one-lap specialist.  Outqualified by teammate Heikki Kovalainen a staggering 16 times out of 18 races, he was an average of 0.465s slower—a lifetime in F1.

In the races, it was a similar story.  He simply isn't as quick as he used to be. 

By contrast, Petrov appears to be heading in the opposite direction.  He now has two years of driving in F1 behind him, and showed a marked improvement last term after a difficult rookie season. 

Harshly pushed aside by the Lotus Renault team at the end of the year, Vitaly is young, hungry and has a point to prove.  He also comes with a hefty wedge of sponsor cash, which certainly won't harm his cause.

The only thing Trulli has which Petrov lacks is experience—but Caterham have that in Heikki Kovalainen, now 30 and with five seasons of racing behind him. 

It's difficult to dislike Jarno Trulli, and I've been a fan of his since he caught my eye with a brilliant drive at the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix.  But that Jarno Trulli wasn't sitting in the Lotus last season, and there's little chance 2012 will see an improvement.

Petrov deserves another chance in F1.  A seat at the young, improving Caterham outfit would be a perfect fit for the young, improving Russian.

Sorry Jarno, but I think it's time to hang up your helmet.

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