Narain Karthikeyan relaxes at Le Meridien hotel in New Delhi on Friday. Raj K Raj/HT Photo
The saying goes that hindsight is 20:20. That certainly seems to be the case in Narain Karthikeyan's assessment of his involvement in Formula One as the HRT F1 driver enters his third season in the sport. "I was too early for the sport in 2005," Karthikeyan told HT. "Because India's understanding of the sport was limited. Now that the sport is here, everyone understands how big the sport is, how demanding and high profile it is and how much attention it attracts."
It is this collective understanding of F1 in India that makes the 35-year-old feel that the time is right for him to continue in F1. "People and corporates are finally starting to understand the sport so now is not the time for me to give up," said Karthikeyan. "As long as I'm fast, why should I give up?" Another thing that keeps Karthikeyan going is the dearth of other Indian drivers stepping up to the F1 fray. "I don't see any other Indian on the near horizon who is going to be driving in F1," said Karthikeyan. "I think I still have the speed, but when I feel like I no longer have the speed I will stop.
"But it's too early for me to say that I'm satisfied with driving in the first Indian Grand Prix and then hang up my helmet.
"I was paired with a fast driver and came out on top and even though it was 17th place, I had to work really hard for it," Karthikeyan added.
Nothing but F1 will do
While Karthikeyan is willing to take a long hard look at his involvement in F1, his involvement in series like A1 GP and Superleague Formula where he stood on the top step of the podium doesn't make him the least bit sentimental. As far as he is concerned, they were just a means to help him become a more rounded racing driver and ultimately get into F1.
"I don't miss racing in any other series obviously," said Karthikeyan. "Even though I'm with a small team driving a car that probably won't beat a Red Bull or McLaren, it still gives me a lot of satisfaction to drive one of these cars and you don't get the thrill of driving these cars in any other series."
Karthikeyan would know a thing or two about other motor racing series given his CV that includes stints in sportscars, NASCAR trucks, Superleague Formula and of course A1 GP.
But while Karthikeyan doesn't hold these series in as high regard as F1, he singles out the Formula Nippon series that he raced in during the 2001 season as a great challenge.
"The cars were very physical to drive and the standard of racing was very high," said Karthikeyan. "My teammate Satoshi Motoyama was one of the best single seat drivers but he didn't speak a word of English so he didn't want to make it outside of Japan."
Looking down the road
Coming back to the subject of what Karthikeyan ultimately wants out of F1; the answer is not as clear cut as one would expect. While most drivers would immediately state aspirations to stand on the F1 podium, Karthikeyan is a little realistic. "To say that I'll stand on the podium in F1 is a very tall order, so let's not kid ourselves," said Karthikeyan. "I just want to have a full season of F1 and get the best out of me."
That was probably the sort of answer one would expect coming from a driver at a tail-end team, but what if Karthikeyan were driving for a strong midfield team like say, Force India?
"I think they (Force India) have done a fabulous job," said Karthikeyan. "In testing they looked pretty strong and they have two very capable drivers, but aside from that, they are a fully European team apart from an Indian owner. Plus they have their own methods of functioning. One can't wait for things to change and I have to pursue my own ambitions."