Narain Karthikeyan will make his return to Formula 1 circles after revealing via Twitter that he had signed a deal with race for Hispania Racing in 2011.
“Back in F1 in 2011. Signed a deal to race for HRT. I’ve always maintained that my time in F1 was not over and now making good on that promise,” he wrote.
The Spanish team has not made any official announcement confirming the news – although it is understood one will occur today – that will see India’s first F1 driver return to the grid.
Karthikeyan’s sole F1 season was in 2005 when his funding from Indian conglomerate TATA helped him secure a berth with the Jordan outfit. His sole points finish came at the farcical six-car United States Grand Prix, and he was generally out-performed by team-mate Tiago Monteiro for much of the season.
The Indian then spent two seasons as Williams’ test driver before moving to the A1GP series, taking the then-underperforming Team India entry to the giddy heights at the front of the field, including two outstanding race victories in Zhuhai and Brands Hatch.
In 2009, he raced in Collin Kolles’ Audi at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and then headed along a different path to race in the NASCAR Truck Series, while also racing in the SuperLeague Formula championship for the PSV Eindhoven team.
It would seem that TATA backing has again propelled him back into Formula 1 with HRT, and it also closes the rather worrying prospect F1 was facing in not having any Indian driver representation when the sports makes its first foray on the subcontinent with the Indian Grand Prix making its debut in October.
Unfortunately, this news might all but scupper the faint hopes Kathikeyan’s compatriot, Karun Chandhok, held in returning to the F1 fold, after losing his drive with HRT in mid-2009 when Sakon Yamamoto arrived with more funding to buy the seat for himself. With one Indian driver seemingly secured on the grid, there will be less commercial interest in supporting Chandhok, whom many (including ourselves at Richard’s F1) feel deserves another opportunity.
The news also has an impact in other areas: Karthikeyan’s signing means – should the Force India team commit to Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta for 2011 (as hotly speculated) – there is only one race seat left on the 2011 grid, and a host of driver clamouring for the seat with their sponsorship portfolios at the ready.
Without wishing to be crude, HRT will opt for the driver with the biggest chequebook, and the likes of Pedro de la Rosa, Nick Heidfeld, Christian Klien, Bruno Senna, Sakon Yamamoto, Lucas di Grassi, Chandhok et al will be furiously pounding the pavement trying to drum up whatever sponsorship they can to give themselves a chance of racing in F1 in 2011.
But one person who may need to outbid them all is Force India boss Vijay Mallya, who may need to buy the seat to place Vitantonio Liuzzi there, for it is believed that the team will need to find a drive elsewhere for the Italian (who has a valid contract for 2011) if he is forced out of the team in place of di Resta. If he does not manage to land the seat for Liuzzi, this will open up more legal troubles for the Silverstone squad as Liuzzi will no doubt resist any attempts to be cast aside.
There are many more twists to this tale, it would seem…