Narain Karthikeyan, 33, returns to F1 after four years with the Hispania Racing Team. The former Jordan F1 driver’s deal with the Murcia-based team will see him at the wheel of an F1 car for the first time since test driving for Williams in 2007.
Speaking to Hindustan Times from his home in Coimbatore, Karthikeyan said: “I’m over the moon. I’ve always maintained that I would give F1 another shot, and when this opportunity presented itself I was overjoyed. The feeling is yet to sink in.”
Over the past four years, Karthikeyan, who in 2005 became the first Indian to make it to the highest echelons of motorsport and is still the only Indian to have scored points in F1, has taken part in the A1 series, the 24-hours Le Mans endurance races and even gone full throttle on the Oval tracks of the Nascar series. However, a week before his 34th birthday, Karthikeyan got an early present. At present, he is the only Indian in the F1’s driver’s seat.
HRT team principal Colin Kolles was happy at getting an experienced driver like Karthikeyan with whom he had previously worked at Jordan. “As I’ve said before, not having an experienced hand hurt us last year. With Narain on board, the team can continue on an upward swing. We have signed a contract with Williams for rear-end parts and that should prove beneficial as we will have components from a team that consistently finished in the top-10 in qualifying last season. This season we will be able to get winter testing done, something we weren’t able to do last year, and the results should show on the track,” he said.
“Narain is a veteran and has always displayed great speed. His feedback on the car will also prove to be valuable as we look to move up the constructors’ standings.”
HRT entered F1 last season with India’s Karun Chandhok and Brazilian Bruno Senna. However, after a slow start, which led to eight retirements in the first eight races of the season, the Spanish team opted for experienced drivers Sakon Yamamoto of Japan and Austria’s Christian Klein. Chandhok was released following the British Grand Prix after failing to impress and finishing no higher than 14th in any of the races.
NK’s inputs will be crucial
HRT team principal Colin Kolles gave Narain Karthikeyan his first F1 break when he picked the Indian driver for the Jordan team in 2005. The Romanian-born German is again at the helm as Karthikeyan returns to F1 with the HRT team.
After a disappointing debut season in which they failed to secure any points and finished 11th in the 12-team series, Kolles expects Karthikeyan's experience to do better.
“Narain has worked with top teams and his experience and feedback on the car will be invaluable for the engineers as we look to improve on last season,” he said.
As part of the deal with Williams F1, which includes use of their rear-end components like gearbox and hydraulics, the engineers of the Spanish team could be given access to the additional wind tunnel in the Grove-based team's headquarters.
Kolles also said HRT have got former Williams and Red Bull technical director Geoff Willis.
“He is a very respected name in these circles and was part of the Red Bull team that developed the car which finished second two years back and was first last season,” said Kolles.
While the Cosworth engine had reliability issues in the first half of last season, it did better towards the end of the season.
A winter of testing, something they were unable to do last term, will also stand them in good stead.
On the second race driver, Kolles said he is still keeping his options open, even though the name of GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela has been doing the rounds.