The Unlikley Lads Part-1

With the racing season back on after the summer breaks we have finally woken up with a thrilling Silverstone Moto GP race at the weekend with Jorge Lorenzo holding off the ever impressive Marc Marquez. After F1 returned with a rather dull race at Spa (for about the first time ever right?) we have to be left wondering if the current crop of rules create good racing at awful tracks. Moto GP also returned on the same weekend and offered a rather samey affair (Qualifying aside) at Brno in the Czech Republic.

With the least surprising news of the summer announced overnight that Daniel Ricciardo is going to move up to the full Red Bull team next year replacing countryman Mark Webber we are starting a new feature on the blog taking a look at the less likely F1 drivers over time.

This week we start with the most recent member of the Unlikely Lads – Narain Karthikeyan

Narain Karthikeyan – India – 48 Races (46 Starts) – 5 points – 2005, 2011 – 2012

In 2005 Jordan Grand Prix was sold to the Midland Group, although the team retained the name – something that doesn’t happen these days and subsequently teams towards the back constantly loose brand power – with an engine deal in place with Toyota the new team owners set about finding drivers for their first season in charge. How they came to conclude that their main driver should be Indian rookie Narain will be puzzling scientists until the end the of time. The Indian charger had come off the back of 3 seasons in world series, the last season saw Narain take two wins but languish in 6th place overall, while Heikki Kovalainen romped home in front of Narain’s team mate for 2005, Tiago Monterio. Thus the decision to announce him as lead driver surely had something to do with that Tata cash that came along with him, although sense possibly prevailed and Tiago got handed the lead car number for the season.

An average junior career but he was at the back of the pack that moved up the ladder to F1/Le Mans thus he was arguably worth a shot. He was beaten in a poor car by his team mate as the pair brought home Jordan to 9th (out of 10) in the constructors championship. This was achieved largely by the farcical 2005 US Grand Prix where issues with the tyres lead to only 6 cars taking to the grid allowing Narain to take his only World Championship points with a 4th. His rookie team mate managed a podium and also managed to squeak a point in the Belgium Grand Prix, but the overall battle was relatively even although Tiago started to look a better driver towards the back end of the season.

The following year the team re-branded as Midland / Spyker F1 and dropped Karthikeyan while retaining his team mate. He signed a testing deal with Williams for 2006/7 but Tata withdrew support leaving him very little track time, thus he spent 3 uninspiring years trundling round the back in A1 Grand Prix for Team India. Now normally this is where the story would end, notched up in the history books as the best candidate thus far from India to have been placed in a F1 car and a spirited if average showing. Narain’s career then tread a familiar path with outings in Superleague Formula alongside a failed Nascar Trucks season. However in 2009 a decent showing at LeMans, finishing 7th for Colin Kolles would lead to one of the most surprising comebacks in F1 history.

The Flying Indian Returns

Forget Mansell or Schumacher the most surprising return of any driver in the past 20 odd years happened in 2011 when HRT replaced Karun Chandok (also from India) with Narain. 5 years after his rookie season Karthikeyan was back on the grid in a move that no-one saw coming. In fact veteran commentator Martin Brundel was left speechless in pre-season shows about the choice, but he brought the cash strapped team some much needed funds from old partners in crime Tata and would allow the team to run Vitantonio Luizzi in the other car, who promptly thrashed him which was a surprise to no-one. But then again the team had no pre-seaon running at all (a constant theme over the 3 years at HRT) and Luizzi had come from Force India and was battle fresh. However by round 9 patience (or cash) had run out and the team accepted a loan deal to place Daniel Ricciardo in the car for the rest of the season. The single reprieve was the inaugural Indian Grand Prix where Luizzi’s car was handed to Narain to drive around at the back.

Now once again this half season showing would of been filed in the history books as an oddity but……

In 2011 HRT took the madness one step further and announced Narain Karthikeyan would return to drive for them alongside vetran test driver Pedro De La Rosa (who had spent the previous 2 years racing off and on for Sauber). This gave the team a combined driver age of 76! Despite the new technical infrastructure and chest beating the team failed to qualify within the 107% rule and were excluded from the first race of the year. Another year fighting for a coveted 13th place ensued, Narain managed to keep it out of the barriers at Monaco and finish 15th and last of the runners to finish ahead of De La Rosa in the standings. However the general mood in the paddock was that the 41 year old Spaniard had the measure of the Indian all year.

HRT folded over the winter leaving Narain without a driver but thanks to modern reliability the record holder of the lowest place F1 finish, twice, a 23rd and a 24th place.

Return to the lower ladders

Bizarrely (or possibly not in the case of one of the strangest careers ever in F1) without a driver for 2013 Narain could of followed the standard path for a F1 exile:

  1. Become a Test/Simulator driver for a F1 team
  2. Go to race in the LeMans series
  3. Go to race in GT cars
  4. Go to race in the DTM
  5. Go to race in Indy Cars in America

These 5 options have been the standard respected career moves post F1, however these weren’t for Narain. No sir. With no single seater rival series such as A1 or Superleague he chose…..Auto GP.

Auto GP – formerly Euroseries 3000. 7 of the drivers are under 21 and eligible for the young drivers trophy. Regarded as a step below both GP2 and World Series its an incredible fall from the glitz and glamour of F1.

But then its a truly fitting footnote to one very strange motor racing career. See you in 2015 Narain?

You never know!


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