Karun Chandhok has fired back in the wake of a curious broadside from Force India team owner Vijay Mallya, who claimed that he couldn’t understand why either Chandhok or his compatriot Narain Karthikeyan would want to drive for tail-ender outfits.
Chandhok, who made his debut with Hispania Racing last year, now drives in a test role for Team Lotus, while Karthikeyan made his return to F1 with HRT this year before being sidelined in favour of Daniel Ricciardo.
“As far as the existing Indian drivers in Formula 1 are concerned, I can only feel very sorry for them,” Mallya, who launched the ‘Hunt for 1 from a Billion’ initiative to find local talent to develop on a path to F1, told reporters during the British Grand Prix weekend.
“They are getting drives by the teams who clearly can’t compete,” he added. “If that’s what they want to do, drive a Formula 1 car for the sake of driving a Formula 1 car and winding up at the back, I can’t do anything about it.”
This is despite Mallya’s previous claims that he wouldn’t hire an Indian driver because didn’t believe there were any current professional drivers from India who could make the grade, and also despite expressing “delight” at Karthikeyan’s signing with HRT during the F1 pre-season!
Well, Chandhok was none too pleased about Mallya’s comments – and understandably so – and took to Reuters to issue a quite brilliant and well-deserved riposte to his compatriot.
“I think it’s a bit sad that in one breath the chairman of our Indian ASN is talking about how much he has done for Indian drivers and then in the next breath he is criticising India’s only two Formula 1 drivers,” Chandhok is quoted as saying by the news agency.
“If you are going to criticise people, at least do it with some facts. Having never tested either Narain or myself in one of his cars, he doesn’t have the facts,” Chandhok continued.
“I understand the need to find the next Indian star – and I use the word next, not first – and the need to create more Indian F1 drivers. But you are not going to find the next Indian star by running events in single-engined four-stroke rental karts on 400-metre tracks made out of concrete.”
And Karun undoubtedly has a point.
While Force India has been doing fairly well of late, there is still a great deal of scepticism about Mallya’s actual motives in committing to the sport, and certainly there are plenty more questions about his actual business practices within Formula 1.
As we have written previously, the team has a bad reputation for how is goes about its business with its partners, and this doesn’t foster confidence from prospective sponsors or individuals looking to get on board with his team.
Just look at the bleeding of talent (designers, engineers and managers) to rival teams and the near-absence of non-Mallya-owned sponsors on the teams’ cars. Corporate India has steered well clear of his team, with Indian carmaker Tata sending its sponsorship dollars to HRT being one example.
Indeed, there is a perception out there that Mallya is only really getting involved so he can be seen as India’s shining light on the F1 stage as the sport heads towards the subcontinent in October for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, an event he helped broker.
Perhaps this reflects his reluctance to have an Indian driver on the payroll – certainly it would be logical to have one – in that this would shift focus away from him.
So have Karun’s comments served to silence Mallya, or can we expect another round in this newest cat fight between the two?
[Original image via Sutton Images]