Narain Karthikeyan is undoubtedly the “fastest Indian in the world.” Having raced in the A1GP and LeMans series, he created history by debuting in Formula 1 with the Jordan team (now Force India) in 2005. Racing runs in his blood as his father too was a National Rally Champion. Karthikeyan will be representing India in the Race of Champions along with Karun Chandhok in Bangkok from 14-16 December. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda correspondent Taruka Srivastav, the man spoke about his career ambitions and what it takes to be an F1 driver.
Do you drive really fast even when you’re driving a normal car, the way some other racers do?
I drive at a decent speed because when I am home, I go out with my wife and parents. I am all for safe driving and with the kind of traffic you find these days, fast is out of question.
At what age did you start karting, and when did you realize you wanted to do this for a living?
I started racing when I was 16. I think I started pretty late considering the fact that my father was a National Rally Champion. But racing has always been my passion so I knew I could make my career through it.
Does the fact that you drive in a relatively slow-paced car like HRT, especially after struggling to find crores of rupees in sponsorship, demotivate you a little?
The car is slower if we are to compare it to some of the others but we’ve got to make the best use of what we’ve got instead of complaining. The car has lots of potential to improve and the whole team works pretty hard on it.
Who was your inspiration growing up?
My dad definitely, as without him I would have never thought of pursuing motorsports.
Who is your favourite F1 racer of all-time?
Michael Schumacher is great.
Jeremy Clarkson once drove a Lotus Formula One car on Top Gear and said it was extremely uncomfortable. What is your take on comfort while driving?
It is difficult of course and this is why fitness plays a very important role.
What do you do during your free time when aren’t globe-trotting/racing?
I like to work out in the gym and spend some quality time with my family and friends but this hardly happens as we are always racing and if not, then practising.
What’s your take on the Buddh International Circuit? Do you think it matches up with the other F1 tracks around the world?
Undoubtedly, it’s one of the best circuits in the world and my favourite of course. It’s a pretty intensive track as it has lots of turns which makes it one of the most challenging circuits as well.
What are you looking forward to the most while competing for India in the Race of Champions?
This format is a pretty challenging one and me and Karun will be competing against some of the best drivers of the world, so we are looking forward to putting up a good show there.
As a veteran F1 driver, do you think that racing talent is enough to land a young driver a seat in the sport? Or are the chances of finding a spot with a team more dependent on the sponsorship that a driver can attract?
There are a lot of things involved to get a spot in a Formula 1 team. Talent is an important part of it of course but it has to be combined with good sponsorships and performances.
F1 is perceived to be an elitist sport in India. What are your views on that?
Well yeah, it definitely is a very expensive sport, but the opportunities have increased a lot now and if one is really hard-working and dedicated and has the right guidance, one can make it alright. I started off when there was just one track in India and getting sponsors was a really tough task. Now the conditions are much better. For the Indian people, F1 is something new and is just two years old in our country. Despite that we see a very good audience.
If you had to choose one current driver from any team who you could replace, which driver would that be?
As of now I am happy with my place and it would be unfair to choose.
Do you think that tyres are playing too big a role in races at the moment?
Yes they do as it takes time for them to adjust to different temperatures which makes it a little challenging.
It must take a lot of effort to get inside a car and race 60-70 laps in one go. Can you give us an insight on how you prepare for a race and what your pre-race routine is like?
I like to keep myself hydrated enough and do a little jogging before the race.
You’re now on the wrong side of 30. What are your plans for the remainder of your career?
For me age is just a number. My plan is to continue racing and do well.