HRT has confirmed that it has retained the services of Narain Karthikeyan for the 2012 season, with the Indian driver set to partner Pedro de la Rosa in the Spanish outfit. With a combined age of 76, they are, by far, the oldest driver pairing on the 2012 grid.
The news also spells the end of Vitantonio Liuzzi’s flirtation with the team, but given that he was on a multi-year agreement with the team, its new owners will have to pay him out of his contract.
Karthikeyan was a surprise choice for the team’s second seat at the start of 2011, making his return to the F1 cockpit for the first time since his debut season in 2005. His arrival came with moderate investment from his Indian backers (whose stickers seemed strangely absent from the car all year), and it was little surprise that he lagged behind Liuzzi’s pace at every outing.
Dropped in favour of Daniel Ricciardo from the British Grand Prix onwards, he made one further appearance at the inaugural Indian Grand Prix (in place of Liuzzi) – he seemed rather more reinvigorated, and outperformed Ricciardo in the race.
“I was pleased with our strong performance at the Indian Grand Prix, in front of my passionate home fans and I look forward to building on this result in 2012.
“I have been training hard since the end of 2011, ensuring I was ready for the rigours of F1 if an opportunity arose. I am delighted to have signed with HRT F1 Team. With the new management, Pedro, and the team, there is definite potential for progress.
“We need to understand that F1 is new to India, we hosted our first race only last year which was a resounding success. To build on that momentum, an Indian driver will certainly keep the interest engaged throughout the season. I am proud to secure an opportunity to forge a stronger connection between India and Formula 1 once again.”
“I am pleased to count with Narain for this season, as he will contribute continuity and stability,” added HRT team principal Luis Pérez-Sala.
“He is a quick, intuitive and secure driver who met his expectations despite a lack of continuity last year. Of the eight Grands Prix he contested in 2011, he only failed to finish on one occasion and had a great performance in the last race he took part in.
“I’m sure that the fact that he will continue to work and drive on a regular basis will help him take a step forward this season. And if he advances, so does the team. This is a year in which you could say that the team starts from scratch and everyone’s input will be fundamental.”
The Spanish team is hoping it will be able to unveil its 2012 challenger, the F112, in Barcelona on February 21. The car – designed under the watch of technical consultant Jacky Eeckelaert – is being assembled in Holzer Engineering in Augsburg, Germany.