Why Has Narain Karthikeyan Been Dropped By HRT?

Narain Karthikeyan’s dropping by HRT and subsequent replacement with Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo was the big Formula1 story last week.

The news of course hasn’t gone down too well with the Indian F1 fans and I wonder what Narain’s sponsors, the TATA Group and Base Batteries feel about their driver being dropped. Narain too hasn’t made an official statement yet.

Buzz is that Narain was dropped by the team due to lack of speed and performance not matching his team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi. The buzz is incorrect! Hence, I thought of penning this blog post and letting Indian F1 fans know the actual reason.

  1. Narain’s performance in the 2011 season has to be applauded. After a 5 year hiatus from the sport Narain has shown speed and commitment in his drive. He might not have beaten his team-mate in any of the races yet, but the difference in their laptimes has come down drastically in the last few races.
  2. Narain started the season with an average deficit of 1-1.5 seconds to Tonio. In Valencia qualifying, he was just about 8 tenths off and in Canada he was only a tenth off. While Narain still qualified only at the back of the grid, his performance improved race after race.
  3. A lot of Indians feel that Narain’s coming last is the reason for his dumping. F1 fans must remember that the HRT F111 is probably the slowest car on the grid and if Narain has been last, his team-mate barring a session or two, has been second-last. The F111 is not capable of challenging the other cars on the grid and the closest it has come to beating another team car is the Virgin Racing car.

Pointers are only to indicate that Narain’s performance isn’t the reason. So what is? I have written about the role of Politics and Money in Formula1 and that is where the reason lies.

Daniel Ricciardo is supported by Red Bull Racing and has been Toro Rosso’s Friday test driver all of 2011. His performance has been well appreciated and Red Bull Racing were contemplating replacing Ricciardo with Jaime Alguersuari in the latter half of the season. Alguersuari has been Q1’s fall guy at most races this season.

Red Bull Racing has certainly paid HRT to buy Ricciardo a race seat, giving the young driver some much needed track time. The money and might of Red Bull Racing has worked in Ricciardo’s favour and cannot be compared to TATA Group’s backing and investment to the HRT team. Basically, Dietrich Mateschitz is a more powerful personality in the F1 Pit lane than TATA Group’s Ratan Tata.

Politics aside, what do you F1 fans think will happen to Narain Karthikeyan?

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).

6 comments On Why Has Narain Karthikeyan Been Dropped By HRT?

  • Kunal
    Firstly if Narain is paying and Ricciardo is paying and politics is the reason logic suggests Liuzzi should be dropped. Narain has been dropped even though he has both Tata and Base paying even though Base seems more like a partnership deal.
    Secondly at Valencia Narain was 1.2sec per lap slower than Liuzzi in the race so I don’t think he was closing the gap. That has pretty much been the gap all year in races. You know better than anyone else that an 8 tenths gap as you suggested in F1 is a lifetime. While I do understand he has been out for 5years and it is not easy at all to come back at this level am not sure why he should be applauded as he is yet to even beat Liuzzi. We will anyway see how Ricciardo does and that will offer a better comparison.
    And finally Narain got the seat due to the fact that he brought more money than others – the $8million so to suggest Ricciardo is getting it only because of money seems odd since Narain got in the same way.
    I do enjoy your blogs but this is my view and hence wanted to share it.

    • Thanks Murali, while logic does indicate that Liuzzi should’ve been given the boot, HRT seems is trying to balance performance vs. business. Liuzzi is for the former and Narain/Daniel for the latter. What HRT does seem to have forgotten that it was NK (and TATA’s) 8 million that saved the team and ensured it could participate in the 2011 championship. As with Daniel, any other pay driver could’ve got the same amount and made a bid for NK’s seat. However, preference for Daniel is because of his Red Bull backing. Getting Daniel works in two ways for HRT; 1) more money 2) accredit from a World Champion team!
      You know the driver round-a-bout that HRT employs better than me and I am sure you’d agree that performance might have been a reason, but in terms of sheer percentage, it was the money and RBR’s clout that got DR ahead of NK.

  • kunal, I absolutely agree with the fact that Narain has coped well this season..I agree POLITICS, MONEY AND MANIPULATION plays a big role here..Another clarification -Narain was ahead of his team mate Liuzzi in the turkish GP..
    round 1: Both drivers were unable to come within the 107% of the qualifying time at the Australian GP, which absolutely speaks for HRT’s incapability.
    Narain and Liuzzi did not finish the Malaysian GP.. The former because of a gearbox problem and Narain Because of Hydraulics Failure..
    Narain Finished 21st position at China behind team mate Liuzzi
    The home GP of HRT at Spain, Narain finished 21st position.. Liuzzi did not finish the race. the cars had some new specs added. During the race there was problem and it heated up the seat and after finishing the race Narain had sustained second degree burns to his lower back.
    Monaco GP was 6 days after this incident..
    round 7 was the Canadian ; unquestionably the most incident based race of the season..Narain drove with maturity and excellent car control and was maintaing 13th position.. He was penalized for 20 seconds and this cost him 17th place.. overall he has done 7 Races .. qualifying also he has a been as close as .01 second behind Liuzzi ..
    Performance of the HRT car’s inconsistency must be highlighted here..
    Liuzzi has not had a significantly great run either.. He did not qualified in Australia , did not finish Malaysia GP and Spainish GP; finished after Narain in Turkish GP.. the whole point is comparing the teammate or Narain skills being criticized Far outweighs the inconsistent and dismal and poor performance of the Pit stops as well as Engineering..

  • Kunal,
    I suppose narain’s droping can be because of following:
    1. Ricciardo is also paying
    2. While Ricciardo paying, he has got baking from Red Bull. HRT might get technology support because of this backing and might be ahead in new teams.
    3. There is always a chance of 107 % rule applied to HRT and Tonio is always faster than narain.
    4. Not sure but Indian driver always get boot… see the case with other indian driver… with HRT

  • Lousy part of being in F1 is dirty politics that is part and parcel of the game and rampant amongst all players in F1 teams-v-teams, back of the grids-v-Fota, FOTA-v-CVC and even within the teams as well.
    The reason why I brought the politics topic was – because you forgot to bring up Chinese GP’11. 3 laps to go Narain who was on single stop strategy was leading Tonio by 25 seconds. He had enough lead to pit for fresh tyres and still come up ahead of Tonio, but the team let Narain suffer on dead tyres and Tonio pass him on fresh tyres.
    Clearly team cannot bad mouth the driver when it screws the driver on strategy. And worst part of story, this is the driver whose sponsors are paying the team’s bills.
    Having witnessed his amazing qualifying laps on debut in Jordan, Narain lost the team support when his mentor Trevor Carlin was thrown out at Jordan/Midland and Collin Colles who replaced Trevor started bad mouthing Narain right from the get go.
    Honestly I failed to understand why Narain chose to join F1 circus after five years, that too in a team when Carlin was still the team boss.
    Narain may not be a championship material, but he is handy driver who has performed reasonably well in every series he drove in and has been a race winner in all the categories he has driven in.
    IMO he should have stuck with American stock car racing and made monies for his effort, afterall given that India is growing market where the Fords and the Chevrolets have to capture market share, having Indian driver driving these stock cars was beneficial for all the parties involved.
    All the hype surrounding F1 is not worth burning valuable sponsor monies on back of the grid team honestly.
    After all best drivers in the world drive in F1 is a myth well preserved by marketing minds running the F1 series.

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