New Delhi: India`s pioneering Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan is not the only one excited about his inaugural home Grand Prix in two weeks` time. The entire paddock, he says, is looking forward to the unexplored destination.
The build-up to arguably India`s biggest global event of the year has been on the right track. McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton showed what an F1 car can do by performing breathtaking stunts in Bangalore last month and Daniel Ricciardo followed to enthrall the fans in the national capital in a Red Bull machine two weeks ago.
Karthikeyan, the lone Indian driver certain to take part in the Oct 28-30 event, says the entire F1 fraternity, including his Hispania Racing Team (HRT), is thrilled about visiting India.
"Everyone in the paddock is extremely excited at the prospect of coming to India. For quite a few it will be their first visit. For many drivers it will be their first venture for a competition and they, too, are keyed up. My HRT teammate Ricciardo was overwhelmed by the amount of excitement and the kind of response his road show got," Karthikeyan said in an interview.
There is already talk that the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) is one of the fastest F1 tracks. The undulations on parts of the 5.14 km track create blind corners and increased width on three of the 16 turns should see plenty of overtaking manoeuvres by the drivers.
Karthikeyan says the 12 teams have a fair idea of the track, even though they have not been there physically.
"Technically, most teams have the track on their simulators, so the drivers will pretty much know what they are up against even if they have not seen the track."
Karthikeyan`s own preparation for the historic race has been far from ideal. The Coimbatore-based driver has had only a handful of opportunities in the F1 cockpit since the European Grand Prix in June when he was abruptly replaced by Ricciardo in the drivers` line-up.
Since then, Karthikeyan has driven in the Friday practice sessions in Germany, Singapore, Japan and most recently South Korea where he drove in wet conditions, a situation he is unlikely to experience in the Indian Grand Prix.
"Any driver will take as much track time as you give him simply because every outing helps. The practice sessions give me very little time to see and experience the evolution of the car, track and the setup over the weekend, but limited running is better than no seat time," he says.
The Backmarker Hispania team has made significant improvements in the car since it was bought by a Spanish investment firm in July.
Karthikeyan is realistic about his chances.
"Our car has improved, but then the competition is not static. The reliability of F1 cars is so high nowadays that you seldom see non-finishes because of technical faults. Having said that, you still need to cross the chequered flag, so keep fingers crossed. We will hopefully be able to come up with our best result," says Karthikeyan, whose best finish has been 17th in Monaco and Canada.
The 34-year-old is thrilled about F1 coming to India and says it would surely promote motorsports in the country.
"Grassroot motorsport has existed in India for long, but the problem has been that the progression ladder is taking a long time coming. Sometimes you need a big bang to shake up things, and hopefully this race will do just that -- showcasing what the sport is at the highest level.
"The other way of promoting the sport is to take karting to every nook and corner of the country. Most metros and Tier II cities now have commercial karting tracks and more youngsters need to be encouraged to drive -- at leisure first and competitively thereafter. Probably things like screening F1 races during karting competitions would help forge a connect between grassroot and top level racing."
As for his own future beyond F1, he doesn`t want to think about it right now; his concentration is only on the Greater Noida race.
"My focus right now is solely on the Indian GP. I would like to stay in F1 but I am not preoccupied with those thoughts; there are a whole lot of other factors that will play a part in deciding my future. Once we have the Indian GP out of the way, thinking about the future will be much easier."