* Change made a month before first race in Melbourne
* No Italian drivers on grid for first time since 1970
* Petrov to test in Barcelona next week
(Adds Petrov quotes)
By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, Feb 17 The Caterham Formula One
team dropped Italian veteran Jarno Trulli on Friday and replaced
him with Russian driver Vitaly Petrov.
The move, announced in a statement by the Malaysian-owned
team, means the season will start in Australia next month
without an Italian driver for the first time since 1970.
It also marked a quick reprieve for Russia's first Formula
One driver, who was dropped by Renault, now Lotus, at the end of
"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," team
principal Tony Fernandes said.
"When we first met it was immediately clear that Vitaly
understands and shares our vision for how we want our team to
"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,"
added Fernandes, whose team started out as Lotus Racing in 2010
and then became Team Lotus.
"We have reached agreement with Jarno to bring an end to our
partnership with him, but he will always be part of our family."
Caterham have yet to score a point but have high hopes for
this year after finishing 10th overall. Their other driver is
Finland's Heikki Kovalainen.
The driver change had been on the cards for some time and
comes just before the second pre-season test in Barcelona next
week, and a month before the first grand prix of the year in
Australia on March 18.
Petrov, 27, told Reuters in a telephone interview that he
had unfinished business in Formula One and had learnt good
lessons in his two seasons at Renault.
"This is 100 percent, 1,000 percent sure," he said. "I
learnt so much, so many things together with that team that now
I can use and bring to this team and hopefully it will help.
"(Caterham) bring different people to the team, they move to
another factory and have a big potential in the future...we have
a big future together."
Petrov, who drove for Renault for two years, finished on the
podium in Australia last year but has been lumped in with the
ranks of "pay drivers" who have got seats thanks to financial
backing from their home country.
The phenomenon is nothing new in the sport, and even
champions such as Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher got their
breaks in exchange for cash, but Petrov still bridled at the
suggestion that money had done much of the talking.
"I think this is not true," he said. "Even in 2011 they
start to ask me about this money, but come on...I hope people
understand this is not just a question of money."
On Thursday, Caterham announced that Mark Smith had taken
over their F1 technical department after Mike Gascoyne moved to
become chief technical officer of the entire Caterham Group,
Reports had said Gascoyne was a chief supporter of Trulli,
who was philosophical about his departure and the all but
certain end to his F1 career which started in 1997 but included
only one race win at Monaco in 2004.
"From zero we built up and established a solid F1 team. I'm
really proud to have been part of it," the 37-year-old said. "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."
(Editing by Mark Meadows and Clare Fallon; To query or comment
on this story email email@example.com)