HRT Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan arrives for the third practice session of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang circuit outside Kuala Lumpur.
The transformation from a soft spoken, somewhat shy person, to a ‘dragon warrior’ in complete control of his ‘beast’ happened in seconds. The time the battery took to get the induction coil step up voltage to spark the internal-combustion engine to life.
‘India’s fastest man’ Narain Karthikeyan was at the wheel of an MRF Formula 2000 car at a shopping mall here brimming with curious onlookers and budding motorists.
HT caught up with the 35-year-old HRT F1 driver on the sidelines of the launch of the MRF Challenge 2012. Excerpts:
How was the break? Do you really find the time to chill?
August was a good month to relax. We have been doing a lot of work to get the fitness levels as well with some demanding circuits coming up. Generally I like to hang out with my friends, go to Coonoor (a hill station about 19km from Ooty) with my friends or just do my training.
You know your car is not as good as some of the big teams. You are yet to win a point. Do you feel after all your sacrifices it’s really worth it?
F1 is not a level playing field and it has been like that since inception. You can’t complain because this is the highest level you can achieve as a driver. It is not easy. There is currently only one other Asian driver. Even China with all their sporting prowess are yet to get a driver in. It’s that difficult to get in. It’s even more difficult to stay on. It’s a never ending struggle and that’s the biggest challenge.
Now that you are married how have things changed?
It could have, but it hasn’t. My wife understands the sport and she has been extremely supportive. I am lucky. I do 200 flights on the tour most of the time living off a suitcase…
When you look at some other sport, say cricket, do you feel frustrated comparing the investment to the returns?
Motorsports in India it’s not structured like Europe or Brazil. Here you have to do everything on your own. I had some lucky breaks and I had been at the right place at the right time. The results came in Formula 3 and then I got Tata on board which was the biggest boon for me. I feel extremely lucky. Even now to attract sponsorship in racing is extremely difficult even for me. You endorse products but obviously the equipment is so expensive that it drains away everything. You are never going to be a millionaire doing motorsports in India. You can’t really compare it with cricket or stardom through IPL.
What’s in it for Tata, just brand building?
You have to ask them. But Tata are really involved. They are also providing their knowhow to our team and I think it will come handy.
Now that India is part of the tour, how do you see the sport growing?
I think the exposure levels are now quite high. You will see now a lot of business houses in India investing more into F1 because it’s a good R&D platform. It’s also a good medium to advertise because all over the world people follow this sport.
What have been the positives on the personal front?
Everyone supports me which is nice. Without the support of family, friends and the fans it would have been very difficult to survive in a sport which seven years ago was somewhat little known. As a pioneer in this sport I am very proud to be doing what I am doing and helping the next generation of drivers to come through as well.
Your season so far…
My race performance has been very strong but in qualifying I’ve been a bit weaker. Right now I’m slightly behind Pedro (teammate De La Rosa) and that’s something I have to improve on going to Belgium.
The writer’s trip is sponsored by MRF