Mat Coch writes:
The conjecture and hearsay can finally stop. Lotus, which was known as Renault, has announced Romain Grosjean will partner the returning Kimi Raikkonen for 2012. It's a positive move for the Frenchman, who debuted in the sport's premier class back in 2009.
Back then he was too inexperienced, too rough around the edges and in need of time to mature. He had the pace, that was evident in a number of his GP2 performances, but his head didn't quite seem to be there. Clearly the team agreed and Grosjean found himself back in GP2 for 2010. Now though, no doubt thanks to his management links with Eric Boullier, he is a Formula One driver once more.
Yet while the bubbly is no doubt out in the Grosjean household (perhaps now he'll give up his job in the bank) there is probably a bottle of vodka a long way from full on Vitaly Petrov's table. The Russian hasn't done a bad job, all things considered, and seems to have been a victim of circumstance.
After an unconvincing start to his Formula One career he seemed to have turned a corner towards the end of 2010. When Robert Kubica was injured at the start of the season the Lotus Renault GP team, as it was then known, had hoped Nick Heidfeld could plug the gap. It soon became evident that he couldn't, and on to Petrov's shoulders the teams fortunes fell. Leading a team however seems to have been too much too soon and Petrov's performances seemed to plateau - though in fairness the car was not as competitive at the end of 2011 as it was at the start.
The Grosjean announcement is a blow to the Russian, though reading between the lines it could be a positive for Kubica fans. Petrov has reached a point in his career where he needs stability, a degree of comfort so to speak. He can do without the pressure of fighting for his drive each and every weekend, and in fairness has probably earned it. As soon as Raikkonen was signed at Lotus it was clear Petrov would be in a position where he'd be fighting for his seat; both in the short and long term.
Raikkonen is a signal of intent from Lotus. It shows that it's serious about moving forward, about progressing and is willing to invest to do so. It also displays that ruthless streak a winning team needs, proof that it's willing to step into the unknown, to take on bigger (calculated) risks for the potential of bigger returns. No doubt Kubica is part of that plan.
Given the team has kept the channels of communication with the Kubica camp open it suggest that whoever is in the second Lotus will only ever be there as a seat warmer. There is no chance Raikkonen would have returned to Formula One to keep the Pole's seat warm.
Grosjean then was a perfect fit. Links with Boullier will no doubt mean he was picked up for a song, and he's inexperienced and young enough that we'll all understand if he's bumped back to a test driver position if Kubica returns. Can we, in all honesty, say the same for Petrov, the man who was charged with leading the team in 2011? If he'd remained and Kubica returned the Russian's F1 career would likely be all but over - realistically who is going to hire a solid midfield runner, admittedly with a bulging chequebook, mid-season? There are more drivers than seats, and Petrov's isn't a CV which sticks in the mind.
So, once Raikkonen was announced it was only ever a matter of time before it was official that Petrov would leave Lotus. The real question was whether it' would be Grosjean or Bruno Senna who would fill the other seat.
Petrov's task now is to secure the last available seat at Williams. Pitpass has it on good authority that a decision on drivers has already been made, though in light of recent events existing contracts could become worthless - Alan Jones was famously told to put some Vaseline on the contract he'd signed with Ferrari once it had secured the services of Giles Villeneuve.
Petrov has money to burn thanks to backing from a number of Russian investors, however with Adrian Sutil also looking for work it won't be an easy pitch to make. Meanwhile Rubens Barrichello is looking to continue his seemingly endless career while Bruno Senna is unlikely to go away without a fight.
It's a close call between Petrov and Sutil. Sutil probably has more natural talent, however his future is unclear given that the Chinese nightclub incident with Lotus' Eric Lux is still to be settled - it's not impossible to imagine he'll be the next Bertrand Gachot. Petrov can probably bring more in the way of finances, and while his performances wouldn't be too far shy of what Sutil could produce he does seem to be at, or close to, the ceiling of his talent and ability. The smart money is probably therefore on Sutil, with the safe money on Petrov. The outsider is of course Senna, whose name alone is a door opener although there is nothing to suggest there is anything between the Brazilian and the team his uncle raced for.
What it all means is that Williams has an embarrassment of riches from which to take its pick. The Grove-based outfit has its choice of the driver market, which is a nice silver lining following the most disappointing season in its entire history. It is also good news for Kubica fans, as it's suggests the team is keeping faith in the injured Pole. While nothing has been said it is a positive sign, given Lotus could have opted for the race proven, well backed Petrov. Instead they've gone for Grosjean, and all the things the signing implies.