Kumar Ram Narain Karthikeyan was the first Indian driver to race in Formula 1 but during his career, he has also competed in other racing series.
He recorded 46 starts in the Formula 1 World Championship, driving for Jordan in 2005 and then for Hispania Racing Team (HRT) in 2011 and 2012. In recent years, since 2014, Karthikeyan competes in the Japanese Super Formula Championship.
Narain's father was a rally champion
He was born on January 14, 1977, in Coimbatore, city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Narain was born in the family renowned for its endeavors in education, enterprises businesses and philanthropic passion. He inherited the racing genes from his father Shri.G.R.Karthikeyan who was a former Indian National rally champion
Young Narain was passionate about motorsport and racing, so he was sent to the Elf Winfield Racing School in France. Karthikeyan’s main ambition was to become the first Indian driver in Formula 1. His dream became true later after he has graduated in the lower ranks of racing,
Formula Ford and Formula Asia champion early in a career
In 1993, Karthikeyan competed in the British Formula Vauxhall Junior and Indian Formula Maruti. The following year, he won the British Formula Ford Series before returning home.
Narain spent two years driving in the Formula Asia series and became the champion in 1996. In 1997, he returned to Europe to compete in the British Formula Vauxhall and finished 8th in the final standings.
Formula Three debut in 1998
Finally, in 1998, Karthikeyan moved to the higher level. He debuted in the British Formula 3 championship and stayed in the series for three seasons, driving for Carlin Motorsport and Stewart Racing. The results weren’t brilliant but Narain still had some success.
Over three years, he had 40 starts and scored two wins, a total of 10 podium finishes, three fastest laps, and two pole positions. The best year was 2000 when he finished 4th in the Drivers’ championship, behind Antonio Pizzonia, Tomas Scheckter, and Takuma Sato.
Formula 1 test with two teams
Karthikeyan stayed in the open-wheels racing in 2001 but he moved to Japan and competed in the Formula Nippon, as a driver of Team Impul. In his only season in the series, the Indian racer collected only two points and finished 14th overall.
The highlight of the year was definitely an opportunity to test a Formula 1 car. In the mid-season, Karthikeyan had a test with Jaguar Racing at Silverstone. His performance was impressive, so Jordan team also gave him a chance for testing in the autumn, at Silverstone and Mugello.
Three seasons in the World Series by Nissan
From 2002 to 2004, Karthikeyan competed in the World Series by Nissan, now known as the Formula V8 3.5 Series. Driving for Tata RC Motorsport in the first season, he finished 9th.
In 2003, he moved to Carlin Motorsport and progressed to the 4th place in the points, while in 2004, Narain returned to Tata RC Motorsport and for the first time managed to win the race, at Magny-Cours. Later he added another win to his account, at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, before he finished 6th in the championship.
In the meantime, Karthikeyan had another Formula 1 test, this time with Minardi team. Narain again impressed and was offered a Formula 1 drive with Minardi in 2004 but he was unable to secure a proper financial backing, so his debut in the most prominent racing championship was deferred.
Joining Jordan F1 team in 2005
The big moment for Narain has arrived in 2005. He signed with Jordan Formula 1 team and became the first Indian driver in the series. After completing the necessary testing, he was given the FIA super license and was ready for the debut, in the Australian Grand Prix.
The results in his rookie season weren’t so good but the fact was that Jordan’s car wasn’t competitive enough. Karthikeyan picked points only once, finishing 4th in the farcical US Grand Prix as that was the race in which only three teams appeared on the track because of the conflict about tires safety.
A1 Grand Prix was the next step in a career
After losing his place in the team, Karthikeyan became a Williams test driver in 2006 and 2007 which helped him to gain experience and learn a lot of things that proved to be valuable in the future.
Narain also competed in the A1 Grand Prix, driving for Team India. The results again weren’t impressive. In the first year, he finished 16th overall without a win or a podium finish. The things have improved in 2007 when Karthikeyan scored two wins and moved up to the 10th place in the championship, while in 2008, his final in the series, Narain dropped to the 12th place, again without top 3 finish in any race.
Bad luck at Le Mans and short spell in NASCAR
In 2009, Karthikeyan was included in Team ByKolles Racing drivers line-up for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, he was unable to drive as he dislocated his shoulder going over the pit wall before the race, leaving Charles Zwolsman Jr. and Andre Lotterer to do the whole 24 hours. Still, they finished in 7th place.
Narain’s racing adventure continued with a two debuts in 2010. He drove part-time in a short-lived Superleague Formula for PSV Eindhoven and won 1 out of 12 races, eventually finishing 16th at the end of the season.
The same year Karthikeyan also made nine appearings in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Driving Wyler Racing’s Chevrolet #60, the Indian had some solid results and was voted the Most Popular Driver of the year, becoming the first foreign driver to win the award.
Return to Formula 1 in 2011
It was a big surprise when it was announced that Karthikeyan is returning to Formula 1. He signed with a Hispania Racing Team which was a total outsider. The car was slow and unreliable so the results were awful. In the middle of the season, he was replaced with Daniel Ricciardo but he stayed there and was as a test driver. He was given another chance at Indian Grand Prix when he replaced Vitantonio Liuzzi and finished 17th in the race which was his best result that year.
Karthikeyan stayed with HRT in 2012 but almost nothing changed. He again failed to earn a single point and the 15th place in the Monaco Grand Prix was his best result. That was the last year in Formula 1 for the Indian driver who again had to look for a new job.
Title contender in 2013 Auto GP series
Moving to the Auto GP series was a big downgrade for Karthikeyan but the season of 2013 was one of the best in his career and he needed just a little luck to win the title. Narain started a season driving for Zele Racing but the results were average.
After the race in Hungary, he moved to Super Nova International team which was a perfect match. He won five out of nine races and had other two podiums which pushed him into the battle for the title. Unfortunately, Karthikeyan was disqualified from the season-closing race at Brno and had to settle for the 4th place in the final classification.
Racing in the Japanese Super Formula since 2014
After 13 years spent in the various racing series, Karthikeyan returned to Japan in 2014, to compete in the Super Formula championship. Unfortunately, the results again weren’t impressive. In his first season, driving for Lenovo Team Impul, Narain finished 13th in the standings, while in 2015, as a driver of Docomo Team Dandelion Racing, he was 11th overall, with one podium finish and the 3rd place in the season-opening race at Suzuka.
He stayed in Super Formula for the 2016 campaign, this time driving for Sunoco Team Le Mans. Scoring one podium, he finished 14th in the points. The fourth Super Formula season followed in 2017 when Karthikeyan was driving for Nakajima Racing. It was his worst season as he finished 19th in the points, the last of regular drivers.