At the height of Michael Schumacher's dominance, the German told his trainer and physio of nearly 10 years about an Indian driver who was knocking on the door of Formula 1. Jokingly, the seven-time champion told Balbir Singh that maybe he'll end up working with the trailblazer.
Making a domestic connection
Fast forward almost eight years and Singh is now the man who helps Narain Karthikeyan survive the physical demands of driving an F1 car. "He (Balbir) was the only Indian face I knew in F1 as he had been there since late 1995," Karthikeyan told HT. "I had heard about his work with Michael and we got along when we first met in 2005."
Between ending his association with Schumacher and working with Karthikeyan, Singh worked with other drivers in lower racing series and F1 too. His recollections show that F1 drivers are not always the willing fitness freaks they portray themselves to be.
"(Giancarlo) Fisichella was lazy in his training!" said Singh. "I had to push him a lot but he was very laidback and he'd always have a stomach ache or something. Very much a typical Italian but a very fast driver."
Singh worked with Fisichella during his stint with Force India where he also worked with Vitantonio Liuzzi. "He had a very Italian mentality," said Singh. "He liked to take things slow, party and then train. But the team gave me full support to push him."
How Narain stacks up to the champ
A far cry from Schumacher's training ethic. "Michael was a training junkie," said Singh of the former seven-time champion. "For him, it wasn't a workout if it was under four hours."
So how does Karthikeyan shape up? "He works very hard," said Singh.
"He's in much better shape than when he first got to F1 and it's a shame that no Indian company other than Tata supports him so that he can show how good he really is."
The key to get going again
Karthikeyan concurs about being in much better shape than way back in 2005 but is wary of one part of Balbir's training regime. "The pushups are really hard," said Karthikeyan. "They're definitely my least favourite and he (Balbir) tried to sit on me the other day to make them harder for me!"
Karthikeyan recognises the benefit of having Singh on his side, however. "I honestly think that if it weren't for the one hour of rejuvenating exercises that we do after the race, I wouldn't be able to get up on Monday morning," said Karthikeyan. "And it only gets harder if you drive a faster car as it puts a greater strain on your body."