The first Russian Formula One driver has been side lined for much of 2015. After losing his Caterham F1 seat at the end of 2012, competing in the DTM for a sole season in 2014, Vitaly Petrov looks set for a racing return in the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship with SMP Racing in the LMP2 tier.
The ‘Vyborg Rocket’ spent three years in Formula One with the Renault and later Lotus-Renault and Caterham F1 teams. During his tenure he scored one podium result, a third place in Australia in 2011. This, along with seven other points finishes saw Petrov finish 10th in the drivers championship before being side lined for former Ferrari champion, Kimi Raikkonen for the 2012 season.
A last gasp attempt to save his F1 career saw the Russian oust veteran Jarno Trulli from his Caterham cockpit. He outraced his more experienced teammate Heikki Kovalainen 10 times and came close to scoring points finishes twice. He most notably overtook the Marussia of Charles Pic at the finale of the 2012 season in Brazil which saw Petrov finish 11th, allowing the team to move above Marussia in the constructors standings, and unlocking millions of pounds of prize money for the team. However, despite a solid season, he was dropped.
After a year out of racing, 2014 saw Petrov join the Mercedes DTM team Mücke Motorsport alongside Daniel Juncadella. Coupled with a poor season for the entire Mercedes-Benz squad of cars, Petrov suffered most, failing to score a single point and finishing last in the drivers’ standings with a best result of 11th. He left the team and spent 2015 testing Mercedes-Benz Russia road cars and promoting the German marque in Russia alongside Russian F1 TV commitments.
Now for 2016, Petrov could find himself replacing compatriot Mikhail Aleshin, Russia’s first IndyCar driver, in SMP’s new BR01 programme, as Aleshin looks set to return to the American open-cockpit series with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
SMP boss Bors Rotenberg told reporters “It is possible that Petrov will replace Aleshin at the wheel of the BR01.” “We negotiated on the phone and he agreed. He wants to represent a Russian team and help develop our project. All that’s left is to meet up and sign the contract.”
SMP’s LMP2 car competed in four European Le Mans races in 2015, scoring three podiums. The BR01 prototype also finished sixth in class on it 24 Hour Le Mans debut in June and fifth in class at the Bahrain WEC finale.
Vitaly Petrov certainly deserves another chance after being dropped unceremoniously from F1 and DTM. In the ultra competitive LMP2 tier of the WEC, he has the chance to prove himself once again. A good performer in Formula One, his sole DTM season was not his best, however, the Russian is a good driver, and with a Russian team, SMP and Petrov could well prove a good relationship for WEC success.