So Narain, why are you in Formula One?
The fact of the matter is that the fastest Indian in the world is one of the slowest drivers in the world of Formula One.
If you go to Narain Karthikeyan’s website, it proudly sports the tagline ‘The fastest Indian in the world’ on the homepage. While that may indeed be the case, the fact of the matter is that the fastest Indian in the world is one of the slowest drivers in the world of Formula One.
When the HRT team didn't make it to the starting grid of the Australian Grand Prix, no one was surprised. One reckons not even Karthikeyan was surprised – he definitely knew what he was getting into and it certainly wasn't to win races.
Formula One is brutal for the teams that scrape the bottom of the ladder. The 107 percent rule is a sporting regulation that affects the qualifying sessions. During the first phase of qualifying, any driver who fails to set a lap within 107 percent of the fastest time in the first qualifying session will not be allowed to start the race. And that’s what happened to Karthikeyan and his team-mate Pedro De La Rosa, which is why they watched the race from the sidelines.
And perhaps that is where they will spend a lot of time this season. Yes, the testing will continue and perhaps the car will even get marginally better but generally being part of a fight for a podium finish will only remain a dream for Karthikeyan. The true fight for HRT will be to finish races and even that will not earn them any points.
The only way Karthikeyan could earn points will be a repeat of the controversial 2005 US Grand Prix, when only three teams – Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi raced or if 12-13 cars crash out of the race. But is that why Karthikeyan is in Formula One?
Is he there just to make up the numbers or does he wish to prove his driving talent? At the end of day, Karthikeyan is 35 – his reflexes aren’t getting any sharper and to be fair, he is no Michael Schumacher... never was. Teams like HRT ‘sell’ seats to drivers and the Indian ace is part of the team simply because he, with the help of the Tata group, could cough up the money to buy one of the seats.
Karthikeyan’s team-mate De la Rosa is 41 too but then he is mainly in the team for his expertise as a testing driver. He was the test driver for McLaren for almost eight years (2003 to 2011) and can surely help HRT improve. The Indian doesn’t even have that reason – he hasn’t been around in Formula One long enough to do that.
Either way the bottom-rung teams are all about young drivers getting a chance to prove themselves. That’s what Schumacher did, that’s what Fernando Alonso did and that's what Sebastian Vettel did as well. Karthikeyan, whose best finish last year was 17th, seems unlikely to follow their footsteps.
So is Karthikeyan in F1 simply because it allows him to call himself ‘The fastest Indian in the World’ or is it because it gets him a few more advertisements?
Either way – it’s a strategy that isn’t working. We all would love to have an Indian in Formula One but shouldn’t he be competitive; shouldn’t he have a realistic chance of doing something more than just bringing up the rear?
Given that this is a paid seat, Karthikeyan will soon find himself running out of time because good results aren’t going to come his way and no other team is interested in having him.
Hamilton pushed his Mercedes to a flying lap of 1 minute, 16.74 seconds. Verstappen in his Red Bull was only 0.03 seconds behind
Bottas, who has been with the team since 2017, has yet to finish a race this season ahead of either teammate and world champion Lewis Hamilton or Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
The Mercedes driver started from second on the grid behind teammate Valtteri Bottas, who finished third behind Verstappen's Red Bull and took a bonus point for the fastest lap.