Narain Karthikeyan will prove himself to be a faster and stronger driver than when he was last in Formula 1, claims his new team boss Colin Kolles.
The Indian racer caused a surprise on Thursday when he announced that he was returning to F1 after a five-year absence. Although the financial support from personal sponsor the Tata Group played a key role in smoothing the way for Karthikeyan's return, Kolles is confident that the 33-year-old will also show better form this time around than he did when he raced for Jordan in 2005.
"We've been speaking to Narain for quite a while," Kolles told AUTOSPORT. "He has the experience, he has the strength and he is quick enough for F1.
"During the Jordan time his physical condition was not the best, but he has improved a lot in that area since then. He raced for me in the Le Mans Series, when he had to drive for many hours, and I know he has gotten better.
"Normally as a race driver you get more mature, and by getting mature this sometimes gives you an advantage. If you get mature and you lose speed that is not good, but I hope, and believe, he has the speed, so he will have increased speed and maturity."
Karthikeyan's signing ensures that there will be at least one Indian driver on the grid for the country's inaugural grand prix this year. That could help deliver more Indian sponsors to the team, which will be the center of attention when the event is held in New Delhi on Oct. 30.
"It is an important thing to have Karthikeyan in F1 – and it is important for India," said Kolles. "I think I've always had a bit of an Indian connection. Narain was the first Indian in F1. I was linked with the start of Force India and helped create it, so I always had a link to India – and that has continued for whatever reason.
"It is a big country, and it is a growing country with huge potential. We have to finance our team and our sport and I think that India has a big potential in terms of large companies who want to create a bit more brand recognition."
Kolles said that with Karthikeyan's deal having been sorted, there was now no rush to get the second seat finalized. While talks continue with a number of interested drivers, Kolles reckoned that HRT could sit back and aim high by perhaps grabbing a big name.
"Some surprises might happen," he said. "Maybe some drivers who have contracts might not have seats. We are in a waiting position. We just want to have the best package possible."
Although Kolles would not identify who he was talking about, speculation in recent weeks has suggested that Vitantonio Liuzzi may lose his seat at Force India despite having a contract for 2011.