Confirmed as an official driver for HRT F1 Team for 2012, the Indian driver shares his views on the upcoming season.
Q: It has finally been revealed that you will occupy the last seat available as an official driver, how are you facing this new challenge in Formula 1?
NK: It all really started after the Indian GP, where we had a good performance which led to the belief that I am still competitive to drive in Formula 1. It is no secret how difficult it is to stay in F1 at this time, but I ensured that I was physically and mentally ready for any opportunity that arose. So I can’t wait to get back in the car and return to action once again.
Q: The uncertainty you’ve faced in the period spanning from the end of last season until the moment you’ve been confirmed can’t have been easy to handle. What have you done to keep yourself occupied?
NK: Well, there were more ups and downs than I can remember, positive and negative days – sometimes I just gave up but it was quickly followed by yet another glimmer of hope. It was exhausting mentally, but like the adage goes, all’s well that ends well.
There was plenty to keep me occupied during the winter though, like I said earlier I trained as hard as I would have if my drive was confirmed last season; fitness is critical in F1 and racing in general. Then there were lots of discussions, which meant a lot of travelling – flights, hotel stays and those sorts of things. So I didn’t have a whole lot of time to sit and mull over things, to be honest.
Q: This will be your third season in Formula 1, what targets have you set yourself?
NK: As far as results go, it largely depends on the development of the car, although I must say that things are looking promising. Otherwise, I have no doubts in my ability, I am extremely confident as last year and after the first few races, I drove better than ever. So I’ll be pushing hard no doubt about that.
A lot of things change this year even though it is the same team, and I am sure it’ll be for the better. The new management is wholly focused on all-round improvement and from what I have seen – they will do so.
Q: Practically the whole structure is new with respect to 2011, what sensations have the new directors given you?
NK: The team has some very capable and experienced people on-board now, like the new Team Principal Luis Pérez-Sala and my teammate Pedro de la Rosa. So things are definitely changing for the better ever since the new owners have taken over. Saul (Ruiz de Marco, HRT F1 CEO) has a very good approach to what F1 should be, by applying his entrepreneurship experience to the team and I’m sure that it will lead to better things. Everyone knows it is impossible to change things in F1 overnight but we have certainly taken strides in the right direction.
Q: How would you define yourself as a driver?
NK: One thing’s for sure – I never give up. I’m here, against all odds and expectations, which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I have worked incredibly hard, I believe in my ability and know that I am as quick as anyone else out there.
Q: What do you know about and what would you highlight about your teammate Pedro de la Rosa?
NK: My first ever test was with Jaguar in 2001 and I remember Pedro was the team driver at the time. Even though I don’t know him very well, I know that he’s very experienced and from what I’ve seen, has a pleasant personality. We should be getting on well – it is not about trying to beat each other but working harmoniously to help the team progress as a whole. Healthy competition will collectively allow us to get the maximum out of the car and fast-forward the development process.
He has a vast amount of developmental experience with a front-running team – so it’ll count a lot for the team in terms of approaching things and making the most out of our resources.
Q: What do you think you can contribute to the team this year?
NK: I am going to push as hard as possible, both inside and outside the cockpit and do whatever it takes to help the team progress in its rejuvenated form. Continuity is important in Formula 1 so I’m sure we’ll hit the ground running this year starting with some actual pre-season testing unlike last season where I first drove the new car on the opening race weekend in Australia. So there is all the incentive for me to ensure that I carry the team forward by delivering results and ensuring that nothing is left on the table as far as performance is concerned.
Q: Coming from a country with not much motorsport tradition, what led you to pursue the dream of making it to Formula 1?
NK: Ever since I started my racing career, I had just one goal in mind – Formula 1. It was definitely an unconventional dream to have, considering we had very little by the way of motorsport in India. Understandably, at the time I failed to realise what an uphill task it was. A more concrete picture emerged when I started racing in Europe, and it was during that time I came to terms with the harsh realities in earnest. We didn’t know the right steps to get to F1, but several setbacks made my resolve only stronger and my perseverance ultimately paid off when I made my debut in 2005.
Q: Last year you made history by becoming the first Indian driver ever to race at the Indian GP. What dreams do you have left to fulfill?
NK: For me, Formula 1 is a continued dream, it is always ultra-competitive and competing at the pinnacle of the sport is what I love. So I am very happy to have the opportunity to continue living my dream and I have every intention to make the best out of it.