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GP Week : Issue 121
The Hispania driver talks to Adam Hay-Nicholls about his return to F1 after a six- year hiatus. 5 Minutes with ... Narain Karthikeyan GPWEEK: Is this year proving tougher than you’d expected? NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN: No, Formula One is always tough. It’s hard work, for sure. For me it’s been a while, and so many things have changed; the tyres; driver aids are gone. Coming back, I feel like a rookie. Coming from NASCAR to here was a big step again. But I feel comfortable with this team, and Tonio is a good driver, so to compare myself against him is, I think, a good opportunity for me. Do you know where Tonio is faster that you? The gap is two-tenths, so not much. More than him being faster, it’s like me in qualifying putting all the segments together and stop making any mistakes. Then I should be okay. We’ve seen how much Michael has struggled after an absence of three years. You’ve been away from F1 for six years. Do you feel you’re slower now than in 2005? No, it’s different, with Michael he didn’t race at all for three years. I raced in A1GP, which is still a single seater, it had a good chassis, and I had pole position and won races there. I wasn’t just sitting at home and doing nothing. For Michael, I guess it was tougher. Did you have any idea last year that you would make an F1 comeback? No, I’ll be honest with you, I was going to go back to NASCAR because I was loving it there and everything. I’ve known Colin Kolles for a long time, and we were just contemplating it as there is the Indian Grand Prix this year, and so on. I got a call and we had a group meeting, and we decided to take this route. When you didn’t qualify in Australia, were Tata concerned that they wouldn’t see any return on their investment? Well it wasn’t like that. Tata have been with me for 11 years, it’s a long-term relationship and the partnership works well. I have their blessing, so it’s okay. How do you think Kimi will get on in NASCAR? He’s a talented driver, but we’ve seen other drivers go from here and struggle to find their feet. Kimi is doing the right thing going to a good, race winning team in trucks, with a lot of experience. The racing technique, with all the drafting and everything, is a completely different story [to F1], you need to get used to it. But I’m sure he’s going to be fine. Will he like the culture of it? It’s much more relaxed, it depends if you like to live in America, but I had a lot of fun. I don’t know Kimi personally but from what I’ve heard he should like it a lot. One commentator recently described F1’s popularity in India as being a bit like trying to get Italians into cricket. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? It’s not that bad, to be honest. In 2005, when I came to F1, there was a big spike [in popularity], and obviously with Force India the viewing figures are getting bigger and bigger. Cricket is huge in India so every other sport has to fight for the leftovers, that’s just the way it is. Nevertheless, there is quite a good viewership of Formula One. When you go back home are you always recognized in the street? Yes, yes of course, I’ve been around for so long. India is a big country of a billion people. Everywhere I go I’m being asked for autographs. There are moves afoot to hold an F1 cricket match at Silverstone this year. Are you up for batting? Sure! I grew up playing a bit of cricket here and there. In India you have to. I’m not massively into it but if there’s a match going Karun [Chandhok] and I will be there. What’s your long-term goal now, to stay in F1 for a few more years? Yeah, to stay here as long as I can, that’s the goal. 18