Lotus Renault team owner Gerard Lopez believes Vitaly Petrov’s Formula One switch to Caterham could shock him into greater improvement in 2012.

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The Russian driver was dumped by Hethel-backed Lotus after his second season at Enstone, where he began his F1 career, as Lopez brought in former world champion Kimi Räikkönen and French GP2 champion Romain Grosjean over the winter.

Now Vyborg-born Petrov has moved from one team with Norfolk connections to the other – with Hingham-backed Caterham looking to finally mix it with Formula One’s midfield.

“We had the feeling that Vitaly thought ‘If I keep delivering my sponsors’ money to the team, I’ll be there for the next five years’,” said Lopez.

“But that’s not the way Formula One works – you have to work hard at everything. So I think Vitaly needed an electric shock.”

“Romain was in a similar situation to Petrov,” added Lopez, after Grosjean’s short F1 spell with Renault in 2009. “He believed everything would take care of itself. Afterwards, we watched him very carefully. Then we thought he had earned a second chance.”

It looked for some time that Petrov would be without a drive for 2012 – at one point looking set to become the test driver for tyre manufacturer Pirelli.

“The winter was quite difficult for me,” Petrov told Sky Sports. “It was a long winter – I was waiting three months before announcing what I will do in the future. Now I am much more happy.”

He added: “Of course, I will improve with a new team like Caterham. They have a big future and like you see what they did in the last two years, they are improving every year their car.

“They have Kers and in August they will move to a new factory (near Silverstone). I like what they are doing and I like to be part of this team.

“They have a lot of new guys working and this summer they will move to a much bigger factory. This team looks really strong and they have a big ambition for the future.”

However, having replaced Jarno Trulli earlier this month Petrov is not expecting to play second fiddle to 2011’s de facto team leader Heikki Kovalainen.

“As far as I know, we’re having absolutely equal status,” said Petrov’s manager Oksana Kosachenko, who confirmed Petrov’s one-season deal could also be extended.

Petrov gets his first taste of the Caterham CT01 on Wednesday and Thursday during the second winter test in Barcelona – Kovalainen will take the wheel for Tuesday and Friday.

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