Over the past few years, the Tricolour has become a constant fixture in the F1 paddock. With Vijay Mallaya's Force India team on the grid and Karun Chandhok behind the wheel of an HRT car, India was well represented across the asphalt tracks last season. However, as the nation gets set to host the world's most glamorous sport with its inaugural Grand Prix, it is the man who ushered in a speed revolution in the country - Narain Karthikeyan - who will once again shoulder the responsibility of carrying a billion hopes.
With a seat secured, Karthikeyan has already circled the final weekend of October on his calendar, when the globetrotting motorsport circus finally hits Indian shores. In an interview, Karthikeyan admits racing in front of his countrymen will be a watershed moment for him. Excerpts
How would you describe the timing of this deal, a week before your 34th birthday and in the year that F1 finally comes to India?
You can't plan such things, but the way it's all fallen into place is incredible. I've been through a lot in my career but to be a part of the first-ever Indian Grand Prix will a special moment for me. I've always seen cricketers playing in front of home fans and how pumped up the support gets them. To experience over 1,00,000 fans cheering for me will be a surreal experience. It will also be a great moment for Indian fans who will have a home driver and home team (Force India) to cheer for.
With a return to F1, you won’t be making any money, as opposed to the Nascar series last season, how tough was it to take this decision?
It was a tough call, but one I had no qualms making. The chance to race in the Indian Grand Prix will be great moment and is alone worth a return to F1. The closest I've come to experiencing home support was in the A1 series' race in Durban, where there is a large Indian diaspora.
HRT's debut season didn't pan out as planned. With greater planning and time being put in this off-season how do you think that car will fare in the 2011 season. Are their any targets that you have set?
I understand that it is still a young team, but there's only one direction where we can go - up. The car can't be any worse than it was last year. Ideally we would like to move ahead of the other two new teams Lotus and Virgin Racing.
Some people have raised questions about your age, while others have said that Indian drivers are not good enough. How would you respond to these criticisms?
For me age is just a number. As long as your reflexes are good and physically you take care of yourself there should be no problem. Last season there were many drivers older than me on the grid. The likes of Rubens Barrichello, Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher who are in their late thirties and early forties showed that age is not really a hindrance in F1.