Struggling Spanish outfit Hispania Racing (HRT) has announced the first of its two drivers for the F1 2011 World Championship campaign – with the unexpected appointment of Narain Karthikeyan, a man who has not featured on the grand prix grid for more than five years.
Karthikeyan began 19 races in the top flight for Jordan/Midland F1 back in 2005, achieving a best finish of fourth place in the farcical and largely-boycotted US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, in which only six cars actually took the start. After being released from his contract come season's end, the first Indian driver to compete at the highest level joined Williams for the following two years as a test driver.
He subsequently represented his country in the now-defunct A1GP World Cup of Motorsport from 2007 to 2009, claiming India's breakthrough victory on the international stage at Zhuhai in China in late 2007. He later switched to sportscars with appearances for Kolles Audi in the Le Mans Series and iconic Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing seventh on his debut in 2009 and again making history as the first of his countrymen ever to enter the legendary French round-the-clock classic.
Last year, Karthikeyan raced in the football-themed Superleague Formula for Dutch club PSV Eindhoven – triumphing along the way at his favourite circuit, Brands Hatch – as well as in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series across the Pond in America. Whilst he has been sporadically linked with a variety of roles in F1 in recent years – most prominently with Force India – in truth, the 33-year-old's chances appeared slim. Until now.
“I've worked really hard to come back to F1,” he enthused, “and it will be a dream come true to race in front of my home crowd in the (inaugural) Indian Grand Prix in October. I'm looking forward to them spurring me on with their blessings and good wishes.
“It's been a while in-the-making, but I am delighted to be racing again in F1 in 2011. I've always maintained that my time in F1 was not over, and now I'm making good on that promise. I am confident that I have the pace, the fitness and the will to succeed in F1 – and I am extremely grateful to the Tata Group, without whose unwavering support, this comeback would not have been possible.
“I'm ramping up my fitness regime big-time. I see plenty of hours in the gym in the near future – but I'm looking forward to it! I'm looking forward to racing for HRT, and to working again with (team principal) Dr. Colin Kolles. We have a long-standing and excellent working relationship together.”
HRT is striving to improve upon its poor performance during its maiden campaign in F1 in 2010 after inking a gearbox-supply deal with Williams, with a 'major sponsor' announcement reportedly also in the pipeline [see separate story – click here