Walking towards the press conference area at the Taj Mansingh hotel, one got the feeling that Narain Karthikeyan would not spend much time talking about the launch of his merchandise after news broke that the 35-year-old had secured the final slot on the 2012 Formula One world championship driver line-up with HRT F1.
Karthikeyan will become the first Indian driver in F1 to race in successive seasons, that too with the same team. It's this continuity, despite the fact that 95% of HRT F1 personnel are new, that Karthikeyan is banking on to help him progress this year. That and the potential for some good fortune on the racetrack.
“You might find a few surprises popping up this year," said Karthikeyan when asked about the regulation changes in F1 that have led to the banning of exhaust blown diffusers.
The one thing that Karthikeyan does not believe will be a factor in his performance, however, is his age. “How is that a factor?" retorted Karthikeyan when asked whether his or his team-mate, Pedro de la Rosa's age would be a factor. “(Michael) Schumacher is 43, (Mark) Webber is in his mid-30s, I am in my mid-30s. You guys (media) are the ones who create this factor!"
While age may not be a factor, experience is something the HRT F1 team principal, Luiz Perez Sala, values. “We are starting probably from the beginning," said Sala via videoconferencing. “Both Pedro and Narain are experienced and we need this in order to build the team.”It is also Karthikeyan's natural talent that made Sala --- who competed for Minardi in 1988 and 1989 --- firm up his mind on the Indian. "I first saw Narain driving in Monza in 2002 in the Nissan World Series. He drove hard over the kerbs and showed good car control. So, I started following him," said Sala.
The Tata effect
While Karthikeyan's association with Tata Motors is one of the reasons for him clinching the HRT berth, the team's CEO, Saul Ruiz de Marcos, too is not averse to the growing popularity of the sport in the Chennai native's country of birth.
"Tata is going to be one of the most important sponsors," said Marcos from Spain.
“We have to build a better car so that Tata get a good return on their investment in the team.” Marcos even raised the possibility of the team doing promotional events in India.