Greater Noida: Highly-rated veteran Formula 1 driver Pedro de la Rosa says he has been hugely impressed with his Indian HRT teammate Narain Karthikeyan.
De la Rosa, at 41, is the oldest driver on the grid after Michael Schumacher and commands the respect of the entire F1 fraternity. The regard has a lot to do with his eight-year relationship with a top team like McLaren, a place he calls his "second home".
Life has changed for the Spaniard ever since he shifted to a small team like HRT at the start of 2012. After 16 tough races, de la Rosa finds himself in a place he thought would never visit.
"F1 is full of surprises you see. I never thought I would be in India and driving alongside an Indian. The circuit is fantastic and so is your driver," de la Rosa told IANS Saturday on the eve of the Indian Grand Prix.
He says the level of drivers is more or less the same barring the likes Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.
"We all are very close if you take these three out of the equation. Narain is a very strong driver and terribly underrated. I think he still has a few more seasons of F1 left in him."
But de la Rosa gets into a spot of bother when you ask him about the Indian's weakness.
"Well to be honest he is quite good. And I was expecting it because he was incredibly fast in the F3. He is extremely fast in the high speed corners and a late braker. He just needs to be more consistent and work on his physical fitness," said the driver with 103 starts.
He, however, has dominated the qualifying sessions over Narain.
On driving a car four-five seconds slower than a McLaren, he says, "You are always on the knife's edge. You have less grip and downforce. And when it rains, it gets even worse.
"A McLaren on the other hand would be more giving. It would be a lot easier to drive in the corners where you gain those four-five seconds. Interestingly, you need to be fitter to drive a faster machine. You have to absorb a lot of G-force which we don't have to."
De la Rosa will be the oldest on the grid next year with Schumacher retiring at the end of 2012. On being asked whether age has caught up, he said, "Age is an important player in your career. I feel I still have the energy to carry on. The day I feel I am not quick enough, I will quit. More than age, it is about motivation and the aggression."