On paper, Narain Karthikeyan may have signed for the same HRT F1 team that he drove for last year, thus ensuring the sort of continuity that drivers in the fickle world of Formula One crave for to advance their careers. A closer look reveals there is little about the Spanish team that is the same
as the 2011 season.
HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan on a vintage car during the driver's parade of the Indian Formula One GP at the Buddh International Circuit.
95% of the personnel are new and the team has shifted its base to Spain from Germany but has left its aerodynamics team behind. There will be a new driver in the other F112, not to mention a new team owner and team principal. So, given all this upheaval, along with the fact that HRT F1 will most likely be fighting for the tail-end spots of the race classification again, one can be forgiven for thinking that Karthikeyan is a glutton for punishment.
Either that or he has the sort of money that Pedro Diniz, one of F1's most famous playboys, had to spend on trying to stay in the bottom end of the top rung of global motorsports. The latter certainly isn't the case, although Karthikeyan is hardly the equivalent of the middle-class Europeans like Lewis Hamilton whose father once worked three jobs to support his son's motor racing career.
Karthikeyan even raced in the cash-rich world of NASCAR in the United States where even drivers with modest results can eke out a reasonable living.
So, why persist with F1? One need only pick out various incidents in Karthikeyan's racing career that have singled him out as one of the most exciting racing drivers to watch.
From a Formula Nippon race in Japan, where he managed to overtake a competitor after having his car's front wing ripped off, to his fantastic record at the British circuit of Brands Hatch, he has done it all. The fearsome Brands Hatch circuit was where former F1 winner Johnny Herbert had a near-fatal crash that sapped him of a lot of his confidence. Such instances were a prelude to his performance at the Indian Grand Prix where he bested Red Bull junior driver Daniel Ricciardo.
Karthikeyan's real reason for racing is racing itself. And it isn't racing unless he is driving the ultimate racing car. If that means having to bide his time with a tail-end team, then so be it.
Karthikeyan will have a kindred spirit within the team who will understand the challenges of trying to punch 'above a car's weight'. Team principal Luis Perez Sala was himself a driver in the Minardi team in 1988 and 1989 and witnessed a Karthikeyan moment when he saw the then 25-year-old attack the kerbs of the chicanes at Monza.
Ten years later, Sala has seen it fit to give Karthikeyan a chance to produce one of those moments of magic again --- moments that may not justify Karthikeyan's involvement with F1's heavy-hitters, but at least with the likes of Williams or, maybe, Sahara Force India.