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Vitaly Petrov

Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 7 October 2010 Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Euronova Jr Team. Formula Renault 2000, Rd1 Monza, Italy, 26-28 March 2004. Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Campos Grand Prix. GP2 Series, Rd 11, Race 1, Valencia, Spain, Saturday 29 September 2007. Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Barwa Addax Team. GP2 Series, Rd 9, Race 1, Monza, Italy, Saturday 12 September 2009. Vitaly Petrov (RUS) Renault R30.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 8 October 2010

Unlike most of his peers, Vitaly Petrov didn’t learn his race craft at the wheel of a kart. Born in the Russian town of Vyborg, Petrov lacked the luxury of a local kart track, so he started competing in rally sprints and ice racing events to test his mettle. Three years of hard work later and he was crowned the Russian Rally Sprint champion.

He moved to race in the Russian Lada Cup in 2001, but also found time to compete in the Russian VW Polo Cup, Formula Russia 2.0 and other national events as he honed his talents. In 2002 he absolutely dominated the Lada Cup field, winning every race to emerge as an uncontested champion.

The following year he left Russia to race in the Italian and European Formula Renault series. It was a brave move for a driver largely unheard of in Europe, but the dual campaign boosted his experience of single-seaters and set him on the road to Formula One. As well as his Formula Renault drives, he competed in the Russian Sports Car championship that year, a series he then won in 2005 after returning to Russia full time. He won nine races to be crowned champion and also clinched the Russian Formula 1600 title after three victories.

It was just the boost Petrov’s career needed and in 2006 he returned to Europe, where he combined a part-time drive in the GP2 Series with seats in Euroseries 3000 and Italian Formula 3000. Although the best his eight GP2 outings garnered was a 10th-place finish in Hungary, he scored five wins in the Euroseries and four wins in Italy’s F3000 series to finish third in both championships.

2007 saw him compete in his first full season of GP2 with Campos, as well as having the opportunity to drive in Formula Master and the Le Mans Series. Whilst his GP2 team mate Giorgio Pantano took third place in the title race, Petrov clinched one victory, in Valencia, and finished 13th overall. He stayed in GP2 with Campos in 2008, taking another win in Valencia to finish the championship seventh. He also competed in GP2 Asia for the team and won one race to finish the series in third.

The following season Petrov stayed in GP2 to drive for Barwa Addax and it proved a wise move. Wins in Turkey and Valencia, five further podiums, two poles and one fastest lap saw him finish runner-up in the standings behind fellow future F1 star Nico Hulkenberg. Meanwhile, in the GP2 Asia Series he was classified fifth overall.

January passed by before Petrov’s fans were assured of where he would be racing in 2010, but it was definitely worth the wait. Finally hitting the big time, he was announced as the Renault team’s second driver, thus becoming Russia’s first Formula One driver. Partnering one of the sport’s brightest new talents, Robert Kubica, it was a baptism of fire for the 26 year-old, who was a complete rookie, yet to sample Formula One power.

Petrov, however, wasn’t fazed. At the opening race in Bahrain he showed his potential, running as high as 11th after a great start, before a trip over a kerb damaged his suspension and forced him to retire. Fearless moves characterized his first year and marked him out as one to watch, including his pass in China on seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

He enjoyed several excellent results, notably his fifth place in Hungary, though inconsistency and inexperience tarnished his rookie year at times. It was a steep learning curve, but his mature drive to sixth at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, during which he fended off a championship-chasing Alonso, showed just what he was capable of when everything came together.

Petrov finished 13th in the 2010 standings with 27 points, 109 adrift of team mate Kubica. Given the difference, it was perhaps not surprising that there were doubts over whether he would retain his seat. Renault eventually gave him the benefit of the doubt and he repaid them with his first podium finish at 2011’s opening round in Australia. Sadly it was a result he was unable to repeat as the pace of Renault’s R31 faded and he was dropped at the end of the year, his 37 points having placed him tenth in the drivers’ championship.

With the 2012 grid seemingly full, Petrov’s F1 career looked to have hit a brick wall. Then, just a month before the start of the season, Caterham decided they should replace veteran driver Jarno Trulli with a younger (Russian) model.