Mon, 07 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Karthikeyan up to speed in debut

Agence France-Presse, Melbourne

Narain Karthikeyan, urged on by millions of new Formula One converts back home, made it through to the checkered flag in his first grand prix here on Sunday.

India's F1 pioneer battled his way around the 57 laps of Melbourne's Albert Park street circuit to finish 15th in the Australian GP behind Italian Renault journeyman Giancarlo Fisichella in the first race of the season.

The 28-year-old rookie thrilled his Jordan team by completing the 302 kilometers and beating five rivals home, including Ferrari's seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher, who retired 14 laps from home after contact with Williams' driver Nick Heidfeld.

Kartihkeyan beat home his Portuguese teammate Tiago Monteiro and Minardi's Patrick Friesacher, while Schumacher, Heidfeld and Christijan Albers failed to complete the race.

It was a performance that encouraged the Jordan team hierarchy ahead of the next GP in Kuala Lumpur on March 20.

"We are very glad we finished the year's first grand prix," team director Trevor Carlin said.

"We got both cars to the finish and that is an achievement, even though it would have been nice to finish a bit higher up the results table.

"Now we are looking forward to going to Malaysia and if possible improving the car a little bit."

Karthikeyan was relieved to have come through his first test of fire in his maiden F1 drive.

"I had a very bad start and then stayed behind Monteiro for a while," he said.

"After the first pit stop (19th lap), I pushed a lot and it was a trouble-free race.

"It is very good to finish the first grand prix of the season and I am looking forward to the next race, even though the weather conditions will be much warmer and humid."

Karthikeyan will take away the memories of finishing seven seconds quicker than Schumacher in qualifying, albeit that heavy rain was a decisive influence in Saturday's first session.

Karthikeyan had his moments in his first tilt at a F1 GP.

He had a one-and-a-half turn spin-out in his Jordan-Toyota car early in the first practice session Saturday before he lasted just six laps and fish-tailed out of a turn and had his rear wheels bogged in wet grass.

He quickly jumped out of the car when flames were visible at the rear of the machine and were extinguished by a track marshall. He took no further part in the session.

Karthikeyan, whose life has been in a whirl since joining Jordan last month as India's first F1 driver, was also fined US$6,750 by stewards for exceeding the pit lane speed limit during opening practice on Friday.