Narain Karthikeyan has again leapt to the defence of the under-fire Hispania Racing (HRT) following the barrage of criticism that was levelled at the struggling Spanish outfit in the wake of its failure to qualify for the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – insisting that the team is 'serious' about establishing itself in the sport and that 'it is unfair to describe us as jokers'.
Having vowed to be much better-prepared than it was ahead of its rookie campaign in the top flight last year, HRT's pre-season build-up was in truth practically a mirror image of twelve months earlier, with the new F111 launched late and failing to turn so much as a wheel during testing following a bizarre and embarrassing customs issue that scuppered the team's efforts to make the last day-and-a-half of the final group test in Barcelona.
There was subsequently just a single installation lap during Friday practice Down Under – for Karthikeyan's team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi – as Hispania continued to put its cars together whilst all of its rivals were taking to the track and racking up data, so the fact that neither driver succeeded in getting inside the reintroduced 107 per cent rule in qualifying around the streets of Albert Park was no great surprise.
However, Karthikeyan – who has returned to F1 this season for the first time since 2005, when he made history by becoming the first Indian driver ever to join the grand prix grid – is adamant that HRT can rise above the disparaging naysayers and disprove its detractors in style, beginning with this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.
“It was very disappointing not to make the grid in Melbourne, but it will be another thing altogether in Malaysia,” asserted the 34-year-old, according to AFP
. “I think we will be in better shape and have a chance to qualify – and I think there will be a lot of support, too. The most important thing that will affect us is going to be the new front wing for the car – if we get that and it is on the car for Sepang, I am pretty confident we can qualify for the race and then our season starts for real.
“We can build on that, and for myself it is important because I want to prove a few things this year. It is important for me, as we have the Indian Grand Prix later in the season.
“We respect the rules and we want to succeed, so we have to do much better – but it is unfair to describe us as jokers. That is not right. We are a serious team and we are going to do better. I think we are going to surprise a few people and I am sure, also, that I can adapt pretty quickly. I know the Malaysia circuit really well and I like it, so I am sure I can go well if we have all the parts we need for the car.
“The last time I raced in Malaysia, back in 2005, I had huge support from the local fans. A lot of Indians also made the trip to come and watch the race, so my memories of this grand prix are fantastic.
“Despite driving the car for very few laps in Australia, I could sense that the F111 has the potential to be an improvement over last year's machine. Sepang is a very demanding track technically, both for the driver and the car – so it will be a good proving-ground for the F111.
“I have been working very hard on my outdoor training in India ever since I announced my comeback into F1. The weather back home is quite close to what we will experience over the race weekend here, so I'm confident that fitness-wise, I will be ready for Sepang.
“Our primary goal for the weekend is to get as many miles under our belt as possible, qualify for the race and finish it. It is only with more-and-more miles of running that we will be able to begin to understand the F111 and to start extracting its potential.”