EW DELHI: At 35, Narain Karthikeyan will have a full season in Formula One but he doesn't think age is a factor in a strenuous sport like motor racing. He feels all a driver needs is a good machine and solid financial backing to survive in the sport.
Karthikeyan, who put India on the F1 map in 2005 with his entry into the Jordan team, will be driving alongside Spain's Pedro de la Rosa for one of the smaller teams Hispania in the 2012 season, beginning with the Australian Grand Prix March 18.
Though he was suddenly replaced by the promising Daniel Ricciardo in the middle of last year, Karthikeyan says his performance in the limited opportunities played the biggest role in securing him a racing seat.
"One of the biggest factors in getting the race seat was my performance at the Indian Grand Prix. I was driving the car after three months and it wasn't the best of things that could happen to me before my first home race. Somehow I was able to manage and finished ahead of Ricciardo," said Karthikeyan, who was back in the cockpit for the 17th race of the season in October after competing in the first seven by June. He finished 17th in the New Delhi race, ahead of Ricciardo, who is touted as a future World Champion.
It is usual for the lesser-known drivers to generate millions of dollars through sponsorship for a F1 seat. Karthikeyan falls in the same category but he says money alone can't keep you in the sport.
"It would be wrong to say that I am here because of sponsorship. I have the ability to drive and I have won races in every other class before coming to F1. There were four to five drivers competing for one spot and had a lot more resources than me. What worked for me was I knew the team management. They knew what I could deliver," he said of his long-time association with the Tata Group.
"Having said that, drivers do open doors for the corporates to invest and being in a lucky position in India, it certainly served me well," he said.
Familiar F1 names like Adrian Sutil, Rubens Barichello and Vitantonio Liuzzi could not get a drive for 2012.
When asked about age being a factor in F1, Karthikeyan said it is never an issue as long as you are fit and have sharp reflexes.
"How is it a factor?" he asked.
"Schumacher (Michael) is 43, drivers like Webber (Mark) and I are in the mid-30s, there are some of them in the late 30s. So it doesn't really matter as long as your reflexes are sharp, you are fit and have not had a major accident in the past."
Hispania came 11th out of 12 teams last year and Karthikeyan says the 2012 target is to take another step in the upward direction.
"It is a completely new car. There are no carry forwards bit from 2011. One hopes the package will be good. Adding to that, it is a new management in Thesan capial. They have put a completely new structure which is like of any of the big teams and it does make a difference. So, it looks quite interesting and competitive," he said.