Today we also wish Narain Karthikeyan a happy birthday; he is turning 35 years old!
Karthikeyan holds the proud distinction of being the first driver from the subcontinent to make it into Formula 1.
As a 16-year-old the Chennai-born driver ventured to France to attend the famous Winfield Elf Racing School, and on his return to India, he quickly took to the small motorsport scene in his homeland.
In 1993, he returned to Europe and competed in the British Formula Vauxhall Junior championship, before graduating into Formula Ford competition the following year, winning the Winter Series title.
Returning home, he joined the Formula Asia Championship – winning the title in 1996 – and went back to the UK again in 1997 to contest the Formula Opel championship, and then Formula 3 in 1998 with the Carlin Motorsport team.
He gave the team its first-ever F3 win in 1999, and he finished the 2000 season in fourth place.
His first F1 opportunity finally came with test drives for Jaguar and Jordan in 2001, and then spent the next few years juggling the occasional test drive with stints in Formula Nippon and the Nissan World Series, before his Carlin connections earned him a call-up to the Jordan team for the 2005 Formula 1 season.
While the team was Jordan by name, the outfit was actually owned by the Midland concern. Narain had a tough time of it, and it became tougher when team manager Carlin was shown the door mid-season. That, coupled no doubt with the (then) unrealistic expectations from his Indian homeland, and it was little surprise that his year with the team was not a success.
With no F1 race seat on offer for 2006, Narain was lucky enough to land a test driver role with Williams. But that didn’t really go far, and so he took on the role of trying to give the Indian A1GP franchise some respectability. This decision reinvigorated his career, and he claimed fine wins in the 2007-8 season at Zhuhai and Brands Hatch.
He joined Colin Kolles’ Le Mans Series team in 2009, and in 2010 he mixed racing duties in NASCAR with drives in the SuperLeague championship as well, picking up a win in the latter at Brands Hatch.
While many would have thought that F1 had passed him by, it was a shock that he was recalled to the grid in 2011 with the cash-strapped Hispania Racing team. Certainly no spring chicken, few would have thought his appointment was earned on merit, and sadly his return season’s results rather proved that theory to be true.
In his nine race appearances for the team, not once did he out-qualify or out-finish team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi; it was only a reinvigorated return race on home soil that he showed the mettle few had seen all year, impressively beating rookie team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the race.
That he has not yet been appointed to an F1 team is perhaps of little surprise, and many expect he will return Stateside to NASCAR, where he was previously a popular addition.
[Original images via LAT, Reuters, Sutton Images, XPB]