Karthikeyan: I am ready for F1
India's rookie Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan has defended his right to race in this weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Karthikeyan, fronting a packed news conference on the eve of the season's first official qualifying suggestion, scoffed at suggestions he did not deserve his place on the grid.

The 28-year-old Jordan driver conceded he was relatively inexperienced by the standards of his Formula One rivals but bristled at claims he had only been given his spot for financial reasons.

"In India, they're very happy for me and there's a lot of talk back home but people keep saying I'm here for commercial reasons," he said. "I would like to say that in British Formula Three I was a race winner and I'm not bad I think."

Karthikeyan's road to Formula One has been long and difficult. He has spent most of the past eight years in British Formula Three and the Nissan World Series after two failed attempts to break into the big league.

He tested with Jaguar and Jordan in 2001 but did not make the grade and came agonisingly close in 2003, when he was offered a drive by Minardi but was unable to generate the huge sums of money needed by the cash-strapped team to secure his place.

Karthikeyan's big break came last year when his sponsors, India's second-largest conglomerate, the Tata Group, and state-run refiner Bharat Petroleum Corp, agreed to back him. He signed a deal with Jordan and then underwent extensive testing in Europe to get the superlicence he needed to compete in Formula One.

Despite his inexperience, Karthikeyan thinks he has what it takes to compete on the sport's biggest stage and he found an unlikely ally in World Champion Michael Schumacher.

"Obviously I'm sure he would have wished to have more time ... but I saw him in testing and he did a good job," Schumacher said. "He had to watch his mirrors quite a bit and he did so I think he's capable of doing so. The race situation is slightly different but I believe he's doing a good job."

Australia's new Williams driver Mark Webber also gave the thumbs up to Karthikeyan.

"He's done a lot of junior categories. He's done many years in Europe so that's healthy," Webber said. "Narain's never been in a Formula One car but he knows where his mirrors are. He's sensible about how he goes about his business and he's a good little driver."

As the first Indian to race in Formula One, Karthikeyan knows his performance in Sunday's race will be closely monitored in his homeland, even if his prospects of scoring are very low.

"I'm obviously very excited. It's my first Grand Prix so I'm just going to do the best I can," he said. "It's new and very different from what I'm used to but I'm quite excited to be here and hopefully I can do a good job."
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