Karthikeyan's interest in motorsport began at an early age, as his father was a former Indian national rally champion. With the ambition of becoming India's first Formula One driver, Karthikeyan finished on the podium in his first ever race, at Sriperumpudur. He then went onto the Elf Winfield Racing School in France, showing his talent by becoming a semi-finalist in the Pilote Elf Competition for Formula Renault cars in 1992. He returned to India to race in Formula Maruti 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 as the number two works Vector driver 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 Estoril. Karthikeyan also took part in the British Formula Ford Winter Series, and became the first Indian to win any 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 the first Asian to win the Formula Asia International series. He moved back to Britain in 1997 to compete in the British Formula Opel Championship, taking a pole position and win at Donington Park and 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 and Silverstone, 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 two pole positions, three fastest laps and two 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 second 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 and the Korean Super Prix.
Karthikeyan started 2001 in the Formula Nippon F3000 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 in the Jordan-Honda EJ11 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. Moving to the World Series by Nissan in 2003, Karthikeyan won two races and took three other podium positions on his way to 4th overall in the championship. These results earned him other 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. During the year, he also married his wife Pavarna.
- 2008: A1 GP World Championship A1 Team India,Winner British GP, Brands Hatch.
- 2007: A1 GP World Championship A1 Team India,Winner Chinese GP
- 2007: Formula One World Championship Williams F1 Team, Test Driver
- 2006: Formula One World Championship Williams F1 Team, Test Driver
- 2005: Formula One World Championship Jordan, 18th (5pts)
- 2004: Formula Nissan World Series (World Series by Nissan), 6th (TATA RC Motorsport)
- 2003: Formula Nissan World Series (Superfund Word Series), 4th (Carlin Motorsport)
- 2002: Formula Nissan World Series (Telefónica World Series), 9th (TATA RC Motorsport)
- 2001: Formula Nippon, 14th (Team Impul)
- 2000: British Formula 3, 4th (Stewart)
- 1999: British Formula 3, 6th (Carlin Motorsport)
- 1998: British Formula 3, 12th (Carlin Motorsport)
- 1997: British Formula Vauxhall, 8th
- 1996: Formula Asia, Champion
- 1995: Formula Asia (4 races)
- 1994: British Formula Ford Winter Series, Champion
- 1993: Indian Formula Maruti + British Formula Vauxhall Junior
- 1992: ELF Winfield Racing School, Circuit Paul Ricard, France won debut race Pilote Elf Competition for Formula Renault.
Formula One career
On February 1, 2005, Karthikeyan announced that he has signed the preliminary deal with Jordan Formula One team and said that he will be their main driver for the 2005 Formula One season, thus making him India's first Formula One racing driver. His partner was the Portuguese driver, Tiago Monteiro. Karthikeyan completed the necessary testing distance of 300km in an F1 car in order to gain his superlicense at the Silverstone Circuit on February 10. Both rookies were "paying drivers", i.e. drivers selected not necessarily because of their talent.
In his first race, the Australian Grand Prix, Karthikeyan qualified in 12th position, mainly thanks to the changeable weather conditions, but still over 3 seconds faster than Monteiro. After a poor start which saw him drop to 18th place by the end of the first lap, Karthikeyan finished in 15th, two laps behind winner Giancarlo Fisichella, and nearly a full minute ahead of Monteiro. He achieved his first points in the 2005 United States Grand Prix under farcical circumstances as all but three teams pulled out due to an argument over tyre safety. Karthikeyan finished 4th, beating only the drivers in Formula One's traditional backmarker team, Minardi. Besides the controversial USGP, Karthikeyan's highest finish was 11th place.
In an unlucky end to his 2005 season, Karthikeyan crashed his Jordan into a wall at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. Fortunately, he escaped unscathed, able to provide an interview right afterwards.
Because the Jordan team was taken over and renamed Midland for the 2006 season, the management change prompted some doubt over Karthikeyan's future at the team. Near the end of 2005, Karthikeyan announced he would not be driving for Midland the following year due to their demand that he pay as much as USD 11.7 million to secure his seat on the team. "There is no way I can raise the kind of money", he said. He mentioned that "anyway, being a test driver in a good car will allow me to showcase my skills better". On December 8, 2005, Karthikeyan tested for Williams at Spain and finished a respectable 5th, outpacing the confirmed Williams second driver, Nico Rosberg in the FW27C chassis, who finished 9th. On January 27, 2006, Williams confirmed Narain as their fourth driver. He will perform testing duties for the team alongside Alexander Wurz who was confirmed earlier as the team's third driver. He has been retained as a reserve test driver for Williams in 2007. Karthikeyan says he has been blown away with the difference between F1's stragglers and a top flight team.
In 2007, Karthikeyan signed a new contract with Williams-Toyota, as secondary test driver alongside Kazuki Nakajima. He was linked with the Spyker (previously Jordan) F1 team after their driver Christijan Albers was fired, although Sakon Yamamoto got the drive.
When the Spyker F1 team was bought out by Vijay Mallya towards the end of 2007, Karthikeyan had been linked with a drive with the new Force India F1 team in 2008. However, Karthikeyan did not even get to test for the team. Karthikeyan was also linked to a drive with the Super Aguri team in January 2008, as one of the terms of an Indian consortium investing in the team. The deal was not agreed and he continued to drive for A1 Team India.
Complete Formula One results
|2005||Jordan Grand Prix||Jordan EJ15||Toyota V10||AUS
Other Events and Races
In 2005 Narain Karthikeyan tested an Indy Racing League, or otherwise simply known as IRL car of Red Bull Cheever Racing team at Phoenix in Arizona, U.S. for Indy 500 and was offered half a million US dollars as initial fee. For reasons unknown Karthikeyan did not take the offer.
In 2007 season Narain Karthikeyan also drove for A1 Team India. He made his A1 GP debut in New Zealand and he finshed 10th in the sprint race and 7th in the Feature Race.
Narain Karthikeyan won the A1GP of Zhuhai (China) for Team India on 16 December 2007. This was India's first A1GP win. Narain is also the first to grab pole position for India in the A1GP. He got pole in the feature race in Brands Hatch in 2008. Narain has won two feature races in the 2007-2008 season, including the season finale in Brands Hatch starting from pole position. This helped India finish in the top ten, ahead of higher ranked teams such as Australia, Brazil, China and Italy.
- Alex Yoong (First Mayalsian/Chinese Formula One driver)
- Zsolt Baumgartner (First Hungarian Formula One driver)
- Karun Chandok (A1 GP racing driver from India)
- "Indian ace Karthikeyan out next season". (Nov. 10, 2005). New Straits Times, p. 42.