Karthikeyan Reloaded

Narain-2

The first Indian to reach the pinnacle of motorsport, Narain Karthikeyan, is a trailblazer who’s charted a route to the top which will be followed by India’s future racing stars. maxim engages him in a freewheeling chat.

What are your plans for October? Will you miss the excitement of F1 and the Indian GP?

Of course, I’ll miss it. The F1 calendar is packed as it is and when you throw in the Indian GP, it all goes a bit mad! But I hope to be there and meet some friends in the F1 paddock and basically do things at a slightly more leisurely pace than I would if I was driving. I’d rather be in the car, though, but that’s what it is.

Many motorsport aficionados still remember your blistering drive in the inaugural race, when you outpaced Ricciardo. Can you talk about that first race and experience of F1 in India?

The first race was crazy across the board! There was all this stuff happening outside of the race itself, and it was a bit hard to stay on the ball continuously and concentrate on the driving, especially since I hadn’t driven a full race distance since July of that year. We managed to have a good qualifying—I was quite close with Ricciardo but got a grid penalty for the race. It didn’t stop there... there was a contact on the first lap and I lost a chunk of the front wing, but we still managed a good race and I finished in front of Ricciardo. It was the best we could have hoped for, given the equipment and circumstances. Overall, it was definitely the most memorable weekend of my career!

You’ve performed exceptionally in the Auto GP World Series. Talk us through your journey so far.

The start of the season was somewhat difficult, even though I knew I had the pace to fight with the guys up front. We had some issues with the pitstops and reliability and so on with the previous team, which cost us valuable points in the Championship. But after switching to Supernova, whom I have known for a long time, things have turned out well and we have been right at the front. The last weekend at Donington was definitely special, winning from seventh on the grid and finally coming into contention for the title fight. Only the finalé remains and even though winning the title is only a distant possibility, I’m happy with the way things have turned out. And the fact that I still have the speed to compete with the best young guns!

After this season, the next race in India is in March 2015. Do you still harbour dreams of returning to F1?

It is going to be difficult, given the dynamics of modern-day Formula One where an enormous amount of funding is required to secure a seat—even if you have the speed. Considering the turbulent financial climate, I think F1 may not be feasible any time soon, but I never say never as far as F1 is concerned!

The Jaypee Group’s recent financial distress has been highlighted, and the promoters have requested the government to chip in with the licence fee. Do you think F1 can survive in India, provided it gets government support?

I think the Jaypee Group has worked extremely hard in bringing F1 to India and running the show flawlessly, but government support is needed to make an event of such stature successful in the long run. All other GPs, barring a couple, are supported by local governments in one way or the other—whether it is tax breaks, custom relaxations or hosting fee contribution. The government should understand that F1 shows India in a positive light on a global stage, apart from the regular benefits to the tourism industry. Classifying F1 as a sport instead of entertainment would be a good place to start.