Narain Karthikeyan holds the distinct honour of being the 1st Indian driver to race in Formula 1, the pinnacle of World Motorsport. Nicknamed “The Fastest Indian in the World” by ‘Autosport’ magazine (the ‘Bible’ of world motorsport), Narain has an impressive list of racing credential, with innumerable ‘firsts’ to his credit. His career in motorsports spans over 20 years, with multiple international race & championship victories. He is an Indian sporting icon, looked up to by the growing younger generation of sports fanatics.
Born on January 14th, 1977, into an illustrious family renowned as much for its endeavours in education, enterprising businesses and philanthropic passion as it is on the racing circuit. Narain was quick to inherit the racing genes from his father G R Karthikeyan, who was a former Indian National Rally Champion, winning the South India rally seven times.
Recognising his sons love for the sport, Narains father had him enrolled into the prestigious Elf-Winfield Racing School in France in 1992 to undergo professional training. From that point, there has been no looking back for Narain.
He returned to India to race Formula Maruti’s for the 1993 season, and in the same year, he also competed in the Formula Vauxhall Junior championship in Great Britain. This gave him valuable experience in European racing, and he was keen to return for the following year. In 1994, he returned to the UK, racing in the Formula Ford Zetec series for the Foundation Racing team. The highlight of the season was a podium finish in a support race for the Portuguese Grand Prix held at the Estoril circuit. Karthikeyan also took part in the British Formula Ford Winter Series, winning the championship and thus became the first Indian to win any racing championship in Europe.
1995 saw Karthikeyan graduate to the Formula Asia Championship for just four races. However, he showed pace immediately and was able to finish second in the race at Shah Alam, Malaysia. In 1996, he had a full season in the series and became the first Indian and Asian to win the Formula Asia Championship. He moved back to Britain in 1997 to compete in the British Formula Opel Championship, taking a pole position and a win at the Donington Park circuit, finishing sixth in the overall points standings.
In 1998, Karthikeyan made his debut in the British Formula 3 Championship with the Carlin Motorsport team. Competing in only 10 rounds, he managed two 3rd place finishes in the final two races of the season, at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Silverstone in the UK, to finish 12th overall. He continued in the championship for 1999, finishing on the podium 5 times, including two wins at Brands Hatch. His season also included 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps and 2 lap records, helping him to 6th in the championship out of 30 drivers. He also competed in the Macau Grand Prix, qualifying in 6th position and finishing 6th in the race. Continuing his drive in the British F3 Championship in 2000, he finished 4th overall in the standings, and also took pole position and fastest laps in the Macau Grand Prix. He also won both the International F3 race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and the Korea Super Prix.
Karthikeyan started 2001 in the Formula Nippon Championship, finishing the year amongst the top ten. In the same year, he became the first Indian to ever drive an F1 car, testing for the Jaguar Racing team at Silverstone on June 14. Impressed with his performance, he was then offered a test drive with the Jordan Formula 1 team at Silverstone in September. Karthikeyan again tested for Jordan, at Mugello in Italy on October 5, finishing just half a second off the pace off Jordan's lead driver Jean Alesi.
In 2002, he moved into the Telefonica World Series with Team Tata RC Motorsport, taking a pole position and setting the fastest non-F1 lap time at the Interlagos Circuit in Brazil. 2003 saw Karthikeyan continue in the now renamed Superfund Word Series winning 2 races and taking 3 other podium positions on his way to 4th overall in the championship. These results earned him another Formula One test drive, this time with the Minardi team. He was offered a race drive for the 2004 season, but was unable to raise the necessary sponsorship funds to seal the deal.
He continued in the Nissan World Series, renamed "World Series by Nissan", in 2004, taking wins in Valencia, Spain and Magny-Cours, France. In August of that year he married Pavarna.
Formula One. The very words are enough to set the pulse racing of motorsport enthusiasts the world over. Undisputedly the most gruelling and competitive of all racing championships, it is every racing champions ultimate dream destination. The Formula One track has been witness to some of the greatest, and the fastest that motorsport has produced legendary racing drivers like Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda, but to name a few. But not until 2005 would the Indian tricolour hold place of pride as an entire nation’s expectations took to the tracks.
Narain Karthikeyan’s name will go down in the history of Motorsport as the first Indian to compete in the coveted world of Formula 1. The pinnacle of motorsport, F1 has room only for the best 20 in the world, and Narain’s presence only goes to show his calibre at the world level.
Narain’s journey from Formula 3 to Formula 1 was the inevitable outcome of his sheer determination to live a lifelong dream. Inking a deal with the Jordan F1 team, he made a dream debut in Melbourne on the 6th of March, 2005, even out-qualifying 7 times World Champion Michael Schumacher to start 12th on the grid. He went on to finish 15th in the race, indeed an impressive feat for a F1 first-timer. Adding yet another feather to his cap of ‘firsts’, he became the first Indian to score World Championship points in a Formula 1 race, when he finished 4th in the United States Grand Prix later that year.
By the end of the year, Narain was eagerly pursued by several F1 teams for a drive in 2006. Multiple world-title winning Williams F1 team, spotting his undeniable talent and ability to develop the performance of a race car, offered him a position as their official test driver for 2006. He conducted over twenty thousand kilometres of testing for the team and provided them with invaluable data towards improvement of their race car.
The world motorsport arena was greeted by a new concept in 2005 when A1GP “The World Cup of Motorsport” staged its impressive debut. It is a championship that pits nation against nation on a level playing field, making it a clear case of being the best among equals. With national pride at stake, the teams and drivers are all racing against each other as global ambassadors of their nation. This was the ultimate platform for Narain to achieve another of his life’s ambitions - bringing glory to his nation in front of the eyes of the world.
Since embarking upon this challenge, Narain Karthikeyan has proven that his driving talent and motivation to succeed are second to none. He has brought the ultimate glory of victory to the nation thrice, in Zhuhai, China (Dec 2007), Brands Hatch, UK (May 2008) and Brands Hatch, UK (May 2009), bringing home two gold medals and a silver. He has been responsible for the sounds of Jana Gana Mana, our beloved national anthem ringing out to a live worldwide television audience of tens of millions of viewers.
In December 2007, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, personally applauded Narain Karthikeyan on his victories, saying “he is a true representative of India’s young spirit, and he has set an example for the entire motorsports fraternity of India to follow.” He is a true trailblazer, proving that with sheer will power, determination, self-belief and hard work, no target is unachievable.
2009 brought another new challenge in the shape of the World Endurance Championship and the legendary Le Mans 24 hour race, racing an Audi R10 Turbo-Diesel Prototype car. His adaptability to new machinery led to him being scouted by a NASCAR team to race in the Camping World Truck Series for the 2010 season. He also raced that year for Team PSV Eindhoven in the Superleague Formula in Europe, recording another win at his favourite track, Brands Hatch, in the UK. He was voted as the most popular driver of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in a fan-vote, becoming the first ever non-American driver in the history of NASCAR to achieve such an accolade.
In January 2010, Narain’s achievements and contributions to motorsport were recognised by the Government of India, as he was awarded with the title of Padma Shri, becoming the first person from the field of motorsport to be honoured with this title.
A return to Formula 1 in 2011 was another amazing achievement in his already stellar career. He drove for the Hispania Racing F1 Team for 2 seasons, 2011 & 2012. He was also invited to represent India at the Race of Champions event, and won the RoC Asia title for India.
In 2013, Narain made a dramatic return to his winning ways with an outstanding set of performances in the Auto GP championship. He recorded 5 wins, 7 podium finishes, 4 pole positions and 3 fastest laps. This resurgence of his career opened up opportunities for him to race in Japanese Superformula, which race the fastest single seaters in the world, outside of F1. He is about to embark on his 5th season of racing in Japanese Superformula.