F1 2011: Challenges That Narain Karthikeyan Will Face In His Comeback Season

Narain Karthikeyan (credits: narainracing.com)

Yesterday I wrote about Narain Karthikeyan’s comeback and my views on his signing up with the Hispania Racing Team for the 2011 Formula1 Season.

Here I focus on the 5 challenges that Narain will face in 2011 while racing with HRT:

1. 2011 car: Narain last drove an F1 car in 2005 with Jordan. F1 cars have undergone a drastic change since the 2009 season. The front wing has become wide, while the rear wing has become narrow. Grooved racing tyres are out and racing slicks are in. With limited pre-season testing and no mid-season testing mileage even the great Michael Schumacher took a few GPs before he got used to the 2010 machinery. Make no mistake, I am not trying to discourage Narain’s move, just highlighting that it indeed will be a difficult start to the 2011 F1 season. Narain’s driven Le Mans, NASCAR trucks and the Superleague formula cars in the last few years and acclimatizing to the 2011 F1 car will take some time. For Narain, the question is how much time?

2. Tyres- grooved and slicks: The F1 paddock is debating whether the Pirelli’s will do a better job as compared to the Bridgestone’s used last year and which drivers will adapt better to the Pirelli tyre. For Narain, the adaptation will be from grooved tyres to racing slicks. In 2005, the Jordan he raced used Bridgestone grooved racing tyres for the entire season, whereas the 2011 season will see racing slicks from Pirelli. This is where his Superleague Formula experience would come handy – he used Michelin’s racing slicks!

3. Qualifying: The qualifying format of the 2005 F1 season was completely different and involved aggregate laptimes taken over Saturday and Sunday. 2011 will follow the knockout format of qualifying to which Narain will have to adapt quickly to. We’ve seen the best drivers caught off guard in knock-out qualifying last year. (This is of course hoping that the 2011 HRT car will be capable of progressing to the Q2 of the knock-out qualifying). Qualifying has always been Narain’s strongest asset; I am hoping it still is.

4. HRT development cycle: This is the most critical challenge. The 2010 HRT car was not ready for the pre-season tests. Infact, Karun Chandhok’s car was being prepared during the weekend of the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix. Also, the HRT car was the only car that saw no development from the first to the last race of the season. Mid-season development is extremely critical to keep pace ahead of your rivals and HRT’s 2011 development plans are crucial for Narain’s success in his comeback season. For the 2011 season, Team Principal Collin Kolles has already announced that the new car will be ready for the latter half of the pre-season tests to be held in February. Is that a sign of good times to come?

5. HRT’s rotation policy: HRT had 4 drivers race in the 2010 season. For Narain, it will be critical to drive for as many races as possible in the 2011 season. I am hoping that his contract reads a ‘race drive’ for ALL the 20 Grand Prixs of 2011 and not just a select few!

Narain’s performance in the first few races of the season will surely be compared to compatriot Karun Chandhoks’. Karun drove for HRT for the first 10 races of the 2010 season. The comparison will be inevitable and the Indian media will base their judgements accordingly. Now this challenge is for his PR machinery to fend off!

Do you think there are more critical challenges for Narain? Do leave your comment and I will update the list with due credit.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

4 comments On F1 2011: Challenges That Narain Karthikeyan Will Face In His Comeback Season

  • Nice one bro…lot to look forward to this season…he has a couple of new tracks to get used to to…lets hope he performs well and that HRT has made their car more competitive !!

  • I shall call it the 3M’s of motorsport- Man, Machine, Money.
    Man- Narain has not driven a fill race for a long long time now and it is going to be a mammoth task to replicate any kind of success from A1 or Le Mans here… we have seen that even switching teams mid reason leaves an inform driver looking lack lustre- case in point; Fisi in 2009
    Machine- As long as seats are going to be bought, it will always be a team with not the best machines on the grid. It is good for a new commer to be in a team and hope to be catching the eyes of the bigger teams. (Schumy, Alonso have all come that way). I am not sure how it is going to help Narain in an HRT as this is his 2nd stint.
    Money- HRT switched 4 drivers as they took anyone who could afford the seat. So lets hope Tata, Bharat Petroleum and Amaron have the moolah to last one season.

  • when narain raced in 2005 jordan had V10 engines now its V8.how much impact reduction in engine unit is going to make has to be determined.
    F1 has undergone loads of techinical changes which he never got to face in lemans,nascar amm sure this too may have effect on performance.
    overall psychologically pressure of making comeback needs to be tackled well right from the beginning.
    all the best narain.

    • Thanks Hemayur and keep reading 🙂 Maybe one day we will go to Hakone and spin a few laps 😉
      Tushar, your observations on the 3M is correct, however, as of now only TATA is sponsoring his drive. From what I know, discussions with the other sponsors are on-going. Whether they join him on the F1 grid or no is a no-brainer! If I were his sponsors – I WOULD!
      Vijay, V10s or V8s, that configuration won’t take much time to figure, it is the aero and tyre changes that will need much work.

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