Narain Karthikeyan's return to Formula One last year was hardly the kind he would have hoped for. After joining HRT F1, the team had to miss pre-season testing entirely and both Karthikeyan and teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi failed to make the starting grid for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Fast forward to 2012, and Karthikeyan found himself in the exactly same situation with the same team, albeit with a different teammate.
Far from pulling out his hair in frustration, Karthikeyan is hoping to make big gains with the team, but still found the apparent case of déjà vu pretty worrying.
"To be honest I wasn't expecting the start of 2012 to be on the same lines as last year," Karthikeyan told HT.
"With the new car I certainly thought that we would much further ahead to begin with, compared to 2011. Yes I expected teething problems but not to this extent. Four races into the season, we are now at a level which we should ideally have been at the onset of the season," he said.
Karthikeyan warned that if upgrades didn't come consistently from HRT F1, the team could very well be stuck with the same deficit to its immediate rivals (Marussia F1 and to some extent, Caterham F1) for the remainder of the season.
The lack of timely updates, is in fact, one of the reasons why the team had to miss the only mid-season test of the year that was held last week at Mugello in Italy. "Strictly speaking, going to Mugello would have been somewhat unproductive as we didn't have any new parts ready in time for the test," said Karthikeyan.
One of the factors playing into HRT F1's low rate of introducing upgrades was its relocation from Germany to its new headquarters in Madrid, Spain. Karthikeyan said that due to the team's limited resources, the relocation was given greater importance and that any new upgrades would be tried out at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.
Of course, the limited track time offered at a Grand Prix weekend's three practice sessions are nothing close to the mileage a team can achieve at a full eight-hour test day.
There is also the not so small matter of a driver getting familiar with his car as well.
"Personally speaking, I would've preferred some seat time at Mugello since I didn't get any pre-season testing compared to my teammate who did the Jerez test with the old car," said Karthikeyan.
"I was originally told that we would do the Mugello test but we decided to focus on putting the car together instead."
Not all gloom
However, like any difficult situation, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Karthikeyan got a glimpse of it at the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix that was the fourth and most recent round of the 20-race championship.
After, yet again, getting outqualified by vastly experienced teammate Pedro de la Rosa, Karthikeyan came within six tenths of a second of beating the Spaniard to the finish line.
"Bahrain was a close race, we were on different strategies but it worked out better for me and ultimately we just fell half a lap short," said Karthikeyan. "But yes it was the best race I've had so far in the season but I still have some work to do in qualifying to get the best out of soft tyres on low-fuel."
Looking for big gains
As the championship starts its European leg on circuits that teams and drivers are far more familiar with, Karthikeyan expects greater gains for teams like HRT F1 than the big guns who are already much closer to their real potential.
"For us, it'll be a development race throughout the season," said Karthikeyan. "Be it aerodynamics or mechanical upgrades since we are still talking about finding seconds rather than tenths."