Narain Karthikeyan, the self dubbed “World’s fastest Indian” is back in F1 as a race driver with Hispania Racing Team for 2011, it was announced today. Karthikeyan announced the news himself yesterday via Twitter and the Times of India and today the team caught up and confirmed it.
It is a great comeback for the driver, who became India’s first F1 driver with Jordan in 2005. He was one of the six drivers who took part in the US Grand Prix that year, finishing fourth behind the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello and his Jordan team mate Tiago Monteiro.
He was always very fast in F3; I remember him being impressive in qualifying on pole at Macau in 2000, but he wasn’t able to show what he could do in F1 during that year with the Jordan team. SInce then he’s raced in various series, including ALMS and Le Mans, A1 GP and Superleague Formula as well as NASCAR Trucks. To the best of my knowledge he’s the first driver ever to go from that series to F1 the following year, although Nelson Piquet Jr made the opposite move recently.
Speaking to Indian Express.com today the driver, who turns 34 next week, revealed that he had the chance to race for HRT last season, but felt that they would be in better shape in 2011, “I’ve been in discussion with HRT for a long time. Originally we had discussed the possibility of me driving for them in 2010, but I felt that it was not the opportunity I was looking for at that time, as the team was new in F1, and still an unproven one.”
“At that time, I felt it was best for me to race elsewhere in 2010. For the 2011 season HRT have expanded their own resources, and have established some strong technical partnerships.”
Karthikeyan’s chance comes courtesy of Indian conglomerate Tata, a Ferrari sponsor, which has backed him. It also backed him in 2006/7 as a test driver at Williams. So India will have a home grown driver on the grid for its inaugural race in October.
HRT team principal Colin Kolles, with whom Karthikeyan has worked before in sports cars, said, “It is a great pleasure for us to have signed Narain Karthikeyan as our race driver for the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship. I have known Narain for a long time and he can revert to the experiences he gained when he was competing for Jordan Grand Prix and being test and reserve driver for Williams F1. Narain has also been driving in other racing series and running in one of the legendary Audi sports cars in the Le Mans Series. I am sure that his experience and speed will be very useful for the team during the season. We are welcoming Narain to our team and we look forward to working closely with him this year.”
Meanwhile Kolles told Reuters on Friday that Bruno Senna will definitely not be racing for the team in 2011, “I can definitely say that Mr Bruno Senna is not going to race for HRT. 100 percent not,” he said.
Karun Chandhok, also from India, who drove for HRT in some races last season, says that he turned down the opportunity to race for them in 2011 as he is focussed on other teams.
“I had the offer from them but I turned it down because it would not have served my purpose in the long run,” he said. “Racing for the team in the first year made sense, but now I am looking at a team that could fetch me points.”
There aren’t many seats left open, with Virgin and Lotus both confirmed, as well as Petrov at Renault. A third driver role may be possible, Chandhok suggested on Friday to Reuters.
Meanwhile the latest information about HRT is that the team appears to have raised some money to build a new car for the 2011 season, using a Williams gearbox and back end. Geoff Willis is involved on the design side.