As a kid, I never wanted to be a doctor, cricketer, pilot or astronaut. The only thing I was ever truly interested in was motorsport. Having spent 20 years watching my heroes Prost, Senna, Mansell and Schumacher drive these fantastic pieces of engineering, I can truly say that I had been waiting for the day I would drive one my whole life.
There were many reports in the media about my first test at Barcelona but what many people don’t realise is that the first time I actually drove an F1 car, was a week earlier at a straight-line drag strip called Santa Pod. The call for that test came at short notice.
I was training in Italy when Christian Horner called my dad and said that they were going to give me a chance. It was a real mad dash to get on a plane and reach England — I had to rush to the factory in Milton Keynes to make a seat and get in the simulator so there was no time to call friends or family.
The day before the test, I suddenly thought it would be a shame if none of my family or friends were there to see me in an F1 car for the first time. Plus, I figured I would really want some pictures to remember the day. Luckily, my good friend Andrew Ferguson, an engineer with the Racing Engineering GP2 team, was sitting at home so he became my moral support and photographer for the day.
It was a typical cold, grey English day when I got to Santa Pod.
The first thing that struck me was how many computers and people were required to run the car. Engineers Ian Morgan and Tim Malyon (both of whom engineered Sebastian Vettel to victory) took me up and down the runway and then through the systems and steering wheel functions.
It was finally time to go and as they strapped me in, I had a tingling feeling. It’s a special feeling that I can’t really describe; but any sportsman will know what I’m talking about!
Tim came on the radio and went through the procedure: “Right Karun, pull the left clutch paddle, then the right gear paddle, then pull out and stop after 20 metres, then pull the right clutch paddle, put it in neutral, press the clutch learn button, confirm the clutch learn after 10 seconds, then left clutch paddle, right gear paddle and go”. Uh…yes, okay. Fortunately, I have a good memory.
Away I went, and after one run to warm it all up, I floored the throttle and felt an amazing burst of acceleration. The car lurched forward and every gear change was another harsh explosion of power that took me over 300 kph before I knew it. I came back with the biggest smile in the world and couldn’t wipe it off for the rest of the day! An absolutely amazing extreme moment.