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Biography

SEASON INFORMATION
15/08/2013

 

Biography

 
Unlike most racers, Vitaly's career did not begin in Karting, basically because there was no real motor sport activity in the area where he grew up. Consequently, it wasn't until his early teens - a veteran age by Karting standards - that he began racing, albeit in rally sprints and ice racing.

Having won the Russian Rally sprint Championship in 2001, Vitaly spent 2002 contesting the Russian Lada Cup, the Russian VW Polo Cup and Formula Russia 2.0.

Having won the Lada Cup in style - he won every round of the series amassing the maximum score - Vitaly looked beyond Russia to Europe knowing that if he was to move up the ladder this is where he had to be.

While he focussed mainly on the Italian and Euro Formula Renault series, Vitaly also found time for the Russian Sports Car Championship and a couple of rounds of the Formula Renault UK series.

He remained in the Formula Renault Italian and Eurocup series in 2004 with Euronova Junior Team but enjoyed little success. However, in addition to one outing in the Euro F3000 Series, there was the consolation of finishing runner-up in the inaugural Lada Revolution Russia championship.

With motor sport rapidly gaining popularity in his homeland, Vitaly opted to remain in Russia for 2005, contesting and winning both the Lada Revolution Russia series and Formula 1600 Russia.

For 2006, once again he set his sights on Europe, this time mainly focussing on one series, the Euroseries 3000 which he contested with Euronova. Four wins and a couple more trips to the podium were enough to gain third place in the championship.

However, Vitaly also found time to contest two rounds of the International 3000 Masters series with Charouz Racing and eight GP2 races with DPR, though he enjoyed little success in either.

For 2007 he concentrated solely on GP2, contesting the series with Campos. Though it was a largely disappointing season, a win in the final feature race of the season (Valencia) saw him secure thirteenth in the standings.

In 2008 he remained with Campos - now renamed Barwa International Campos Team - and contested both the GP2 Series and its Asian off-shoot. Finishing seventh in the main series, having scored a win in the feature race at Valencia (again!) he went on to finish seventh in the final standings. In GP2 Asia he finished third overall, winning the feature race which supported the Malaysia Grand Prix along the way.

He contested both series again in 2009, and once again there was a clear improvement, the Russian finishing runner-up to Nico Hulkenberg in the main series - having scored wins in Istanbul and Valencia (again) - while in GP2 Asia he finished fifth.

With a number of new teams due to enter F1 in 2010 it came as no surprise that over the winter Vitaly was linked with several of them including Campos Meta, with Sauber and Renault also said to be showing an interest. The fact that he carried sizeable financial backing - thought to be worth as much as fifteen million euros (13m) - made the Russian even more attractive. That said, Vitaly played down the size of his financial support insisting that it came from his "father and a few friends" as opposed to Moscow-based bank Sberbank and energy giant Gazprom.

On 31 January, at the launch of its 2010 contender, Vitaly was confirmed as teammate to Robert Kubica at Renault, thereby becoming the first Russian to race in the Formula One World Championship.

It's fair to say that 2010 was a baptism of fire for the youngster, in addition to being partnered by a teammate possessed of an awesome talent he was joining a team still in the process of being rebuilt.

While he could only qualify seventeenth for his maiden Grand Prix, he was looking good in tenth place only to be sidelined when a front suspension strut was found to be damaged. He spun off in Australia and suffered a gearbox problem in Malaysia, but in China he finally opened his points account, though he had to be satisfied with seventh having spun off while seemingly destined for fourth. That said, in the difficult conditions, Vitaly pulled off a number of brave moves, making short work of Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber, amongst others.

Unfortunately, Vitaly was struggling in qualifying - indeed, he only out-qualified his teammate twice all season - and his lowly grid positions meant he had it all to do on Sundays.

In Turkey, he finally made it to Q3, qualifying ninth. Involved in a great scrap with Fernando Alonso in the closing laps, Vitaly suffered a puncture and had to pit. On returning to the track he went on to post the fastest lap of the race.

In Hungary he qualified seventh, his best performance thus far, going on to finish fifth in the race having passed Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg going into the first corner. There was another fine performance at Spa, where, starting from the very back of the grid after failing to post a time in qualifying following a crash in Q1, he made up 14 places in difficult conditions to finish ninth.

In Japan, having passed Felipe Massa at the start, Vitaly subsequently crashed into Nico Hulkenberg, eliminating them both, while in Korea he crashed out on worn tyres shortly after the end of the second Safety Car period. He was in seventh position at the time.

Depending on your point of view, perhaps Vitaly's finest hour came in Abu Dhabi when he was instrumental in the outcome of the world championship title. Following a strategic error by Ferrari, Alonso, who went into the race favourite for the title, emerged in traffic. All was OK until the Spaniard encountered Vitaly who refused to yield. As they battled for track position, the Ferrari remained stuck behind the Renault for over forty laps. Once the race was over, Alonso gesticulated his frustration to the Russian, however, nowhere is it written that he had to yield, the onus has been on the double world champion and he had failed.

At season end, there was doubt as to whether Vitaly had done enough to retain his seat. However, a couple of weeks after Proton owned Group Lotus had bought out Renault's remaining stake in the team, the Russian was handed a new two-year deal.

Vitaly got his second season off to the best possible start when in Melbourne he qualified sixth - a career-best - and went on to score a podium finish (third) in the race.

In Malaysia, he was once again looking good for a decent points finish when he ran wide and whilst attempting to rejoin the track hit a bump caused by a drainage gully and was launched into the air, breaking his steering column on landing.

Sadly, for Vitaly, and for the team, that was about as good as it got, Renault paying the price for what it later described as a brave experiment that failed. That brave experiment being a radical exhaust system which ultimately didn't work as it should. This, and a failure to get to grip with the new Pirellis, meaning that as the season progressed the R31 lost more and more ground to its rivals.

During qualifying in China, Vitaly suffered a technical problem after posting the fourth fastest time in Q2. As a result, he could not compete in Q3, leaving him to start tenth on the grid. He drove a good race and, courtesy of a good tyre strategy, was able to finish ninth, passing several cars after his final stop of a two stop strategy.

In Monaco, he was taken to hospital after a crash involving Adrian Sutil, Lewis Hamilton and Jaime Alguersuari as they battled for sixth. The hospital trip was merely precautionary and the Russian was released later the same day.

Fifth in Canada was followed by a difficult weekend in Valencia where he finished 15th.

New restrictions over the use of off-throttle blown diffusers were introduced for the British Grand Prix, and, as was expected, Renault was badly affected having designed its car around the system.

In Germany, Vitaly returned to Q3 for the first time since Canada, going on to finish the race ninth, while a non-points finish in Hungary was followed by a ninth in Belgium. The Russian qualified seventh at Monza, but while battling with Nico Rosberg on the first lap, the HRT of Vitantonio Liuzzi crashed into the pair of them eliminating all three cars on the spot.

Singapore has to be the season lowlight, with Vitaly out in Q1 and Senna only managing fifteenth on the grid. While the Brazilian did not improve his position in the race, Vitaly moved up one place, leaving the team struggling to maintain fifth in the Constructors' Championship as Force India closed in.

In Korea, Vitaly qualified eighth but retired after crashing into the back of Michael Schumacher on the sixteenth lap, thereby bringing out the Safety Car. It was the third incident involving the pair over the course of the season and saw the Renault driver take a five-place grid penalty to India.

Qualifying eleventh in India, the penalty meant he started from sixteenth on the grid. A strong race saw him finish eleventh, just outside the points.

After finishing thirteenth in Abu Dhabi, Vitaly attacked his team in an interview for Russian television, the driver citing lack of development, strategic mistakes and criticism of the drivers by team management. The Russian subsequently apologised, team boss Eric Boullier insisting that the matter was forgotten about.

Vitaly ended the season with a tenth place finish in Brazil, but with Adrian Sutil finishing sixth in the race, the German moved ahead of the Russian for ninth place in the final championship standings. Renault was lucky to hold off Force India for fifth in the Constructors' Championship.

Despite a few mistakes, a little too much aggression and an apparent failure to further integrate himself with his team, many felt Vitaly had done well in his second season, and therefore deserved to retain his seat. However, in mid-December, despite having a contract for another year, it was announced that Vitaly had been dropped in favour of Romain Grosjean, thereby leaving the Russian without a seat for 2012 and little time in which to find one.

In January 2012, the only 'decent' drive remaining was that at Williams, however Vitaly was up against Rubens Barrichello, Adrian Sutil and Bruno Senna. The subsequent decision which saw the Grove outfit lose AT&T as title sponsor appeared to favour Vitaly, but on 17 January it was confirmed that Senna had won through.

Consequently, despite a sack full of Russian cash, just weeks ahead of the first launch, and with only the second seat at HRT available, Vitaly was still looking for a ride. Then, on February 17, days ahead of the second pre-season test, Caterham announced that it had dropped Italian veteran Jarno Trulli in favour of the Russian. Initially slow, the Caterham CT01 gradually began to pick up pace only to ease off again as the season drew to a close. Although at times the team appeared to be closing the gap to the back of the midfield, until the final laps of the season finale in Brazil the team looked in danger of losing out in the standings to Marussia, a move that would have been disastrous, financially speaking.

While reliability was good - the team completing 93.9% of the laps that comprised the 2012 season - though this was compromised by Vitaly's engine failure on the way to the grid at Silverstone - it wasn't enough to seriously allow the team to challenge for points. Indeed, had it not been for KERS the team might have struggled even more.

While Kovalainen dominated on Saturdays, out-qualifying Vitaly 13-7, generally it was the Russian who performed better in the races ultimately saving the team's bacon by bringing his car home eleventh in Brazil and thereby allowing Caterham to leapfrog Marussia in the Constructors' Championship.

While Barcelona was the first time Vitaly had qualified ahead of his team-mate (by just under two tenths), it was also the first time he was to finish a race behind. Monaco was another disappointing weekend, having qualified nearly nine-tenths down on Kovalainen, he subsequently retired from the race on lap 15 with electrical failure.

In Canada, Vitaly qualified 19th, ahead of the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, but was unable to keep ahead at the start and went on to finish exactly where he started. In the European Grand Prix, the Russian ran as high as tenth - a result that would have earned Caterham its first point - but was involved in a collision with Daniel Ricciardo and subsequently finished thirteenth.

After initially being outpaced by his teammate, once Vitaly had adjusted to the car he began to turn the tables on Kovalainen and finished ahead of him in four of the last five races of the season.

In the season finale in Brazil, Vitaly finished eleventh, making a crucial pass on Marussia's Charles Pic in the closing stages of the race, the result meant that Caterham moved back ahead of the Russian team to claim tenth in the Constructor's Championship, a position worth millions of pounds more in prize money.

However, this was not enough to secure Vitaly - or Kovalainen - a seat for 2013. In late November it was announced that Charles Pic had signed a multi-year contract with the Anglo-Malaysian team however, less than two weeks ahead of the launch of its 2013 contender the identity of his teammate remained a mystery. Kovalainen has made it clear that he has no intention of becoming a pay driver thereby leaving the door open for Vitaly, Bruno Senna or possibly Giedo van der Garde.

Statistics - at the end of 2012 Season

Drivers' Titles: 0
Seasons in F1: 3
Grand Prix: 57
Wins: 0
Poles: 0
Fastest Laps: 1

Best result in 2012: 11th (Brazil)
Best qualifying 2012: 18th (Spain)
Worst qualifying 2012: 23rd (Japan)

2012: Out-qualified Heikki Kovalainen 7 times
2012: Out-qualified by Heikki Kovalainen 13 times

2012: Completed 1036 out of 1140 laps (90.9%)
2012: Finished 17 times from 19 starts (89%)

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