India's Narain Karthikeyan was handed a permanent driver's slot with the HRT Formula One team on the strength of his showing in the Indian Grand Prix and the Spanish team expects him to justify his selection by being more consistent in the 2012 season.
The country's first F1 driver edged his contemporaries to sign up with HRT earlier in the month to complete the drivers' line-up for the season, beginning March 16 at Melbourne. The back of the grid team has a completely new management in place and they want their drivers Karthikeyan and the more experienced Pedro de la Rosa to provide them valuable inputs to work on the car.
Karthikeyan, who returned to F1 last year after five seasons, was dropped in the middle of the season, but he was back in the cockpit for the inaugural home race. Though the 35-year-old has been signed for the 20-race season, the team's new principal and former F1 driver Luiz-Perez Sala says he will have to earn his place for each round.
"The idea as of now is to race him the whole season, but nothing is taken for granted in F1, you have to work for your place in every race. But as things stand, Karthikeyan and Pedro will race the entire season," Perez-Sala told IANS in an online interview.
Explaining how HRT zeroed in on Karthikeyan, Perez-Sala said the Indian was a reliable driver, having finished seven of the eight races he took part in last season.
"We picked him because of his familiarity with the members of the team. Last year he raced in eight of the 19 rounds with us and was very reliable, he barely had a mix-up, finishing seven races. In his last race in India, he put up a great performance and we were very happy with him.
"We believe that Narain can strike up a solid partnership with Pedro. He is a quick intuitive driver and he only has to be a little bit consistent," said Perez-Sala referring to Karthikeyan's 17th place finish in New Delhi where he was faster than highly-rated teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who has now moved to Toro Rosso.
HRT had a setback even before the start of the season as their 2012 car failed the FIA's crash test and will now only be ready for the final testing session in Barcelona on March 1 - 15 days before the season opener. Now, Karthikeyan will only get his hands on the 2011 car in the second test in Circuit de Catalunya next week.
As for HRT's goal for the year, considering the team's limitations, Perez-Sala said it would be happy if it could finish ahead of Marussia and would be delighted if it can be at the heels of Caterham, formerly Team Lotus, for whom another Indian, Karun Chandhok, was a standby driver last year.
"We have a new car and a new team. That means, to start with, we will be a little bit behind. But we believe that sometimes to improve you must go backwards firstly, we have taken one step backwards in order to take two forward. Our target is to grow little by little as the season goes on," said the Spaniard, who raced for Minardi from 1988 and 1989.
"If we can stay ahead of Marussia, we will be happy and if we get closer to Caterham, then we will be delighted, but our first objective is to get things under way, improve on reliability and progress as the season advances."
HRT finished the 2011 Constructors Championship in 11th position.