With support from a local fan base that could top 1 billion people, to say that Karun Chandhok has a lot of pressure on his shoulders would be something of an understatement. The second Indian driver to join the ranks of F1 – the other being Narain Karthikeyan in 2005 – Karun has long been touted as India’s next F1 prospect.
With a family involvement in motorsport, Karun was set on the path to F1 at an early age. He achieved some success in the junior Asian series, before venturing to Europe to compete in the 2003 British F3 series. He performed solidly, especially given his unfamiliarity with the circuits and his relative inexperience.
He subsequently had some outings in the A1GP series and the Renault World Series championships, but with limited success.
He returned back to his home continent in 2006 and utterly dominated the Formula V6 Asia Championship, winning 7 of the 12 races that season.
With more confidence, he launched himself back into Europe and took a GP2 seat with Durango, then a midfield team in the competition. He was soon in the running for points, and the championship’s reverse grid rules allowed him to start from the front row on occasions at the Sunday races.
He looked set to take victory at Istanbul until he was punted out of contention by Kazuki Nakajima, but recovered with an outstanding victory at Spa.
He moved to the iSport squad the following year and teamed up with his current F1 team-mate Bruno Senna. Although he scored another win, he couldn’t consistently harness his speed into consistent results and was generally won over by his Brazilian team-mate. His final GP2 season was with the Ocean Racing outfit, but he only finished on the podium once.
The last of the drivers to be confirmed on the 2010 grid, the young Indian has benefited from the upheaval at Hispania Racing to land himself a drive at the last minute. He endured an extremely difficult baptism at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but has proved steady and consistent in the back-of-the-grid car, bringing the car to the chequered flag in the subsequent races.
Karun graciously accepted our interview request and has candidly opened up about the ups and downs of his motorsport career, his relationship with Dr Vijay Mallya, and the future of motorsport in India. An articulate, thoughtful and intelligent man out of the cockpit, he is certainly aiming to do everything he can to stay in F1 for the long haul.
RichardsF1.com is extremely thankful to Karun for his time and support in compiling this interview – and we offer enormous thanks to the Hispania Racing Team for their assistance in coordinating the interview.
|Full Name:||Karun Chandhok|
|Born:||19 January 1984, Madras (IND)|
|First GP:||2010 Bahrain Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||2011 German Grand Prix|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||14th||Best Qualifying:||21st|
|2000||Formula Maruti, 10 races, 7 wins, 10 podiums, 1st overall|
|2001||Formula 2000 Asia, SMR Team India, 14 races, 8 wins, 1st overall|
|2002||British F3 Championship (National Class), T-Sport, 25 races, 7 podiums, 6th overall|
|2003||British F3 Championship (National Class), T-Sport, 24 races, 7 wins, 20 podiums, 3rd overall|
|2004||British F3 Championship, T-Sport, 17 races, 14th overall|
|World Series by Nissan, TATA RC Motorsport, 2 races, 16th overall|
|2005||Formula Renault 3.5 Championship, RC Motorsport, 5 races, Not Classified|
|2005-6||A1 Grand Prix, Team India, 3 races|
|2006||Formula V6 Asia by Renault, Team E-Rain, 12 races, 7 wins, 1st overall|
|2007||GP2 Series, Durango, 21 races, 1 win, 15th overall|
|2008||GP2 Asia Series, iSport International, 10 races, 1 podium, 7th overall|
|GP2 Series, iSport International, 19 races, 1 win, 3 podiums, 10th overall|
|2008-9||GP2 Asia Series, Ocean Racing Technology, 2 races, Not Classified|
|2009||GP2 Series, Ocean Racing Technology, 20 races, 1 podium, 18th overall|
|2010||Formula 1, Hispania Racing Cosworth F110, 10 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2011||Formula 1, Team Lotus Renault T128, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|2012||FIA World Endurance Championship, JRM HPD ARX-03 LMP1, 8 races, 10th overall|
|24 Hours of Le Mans, JRM HPD ARX-03 LMP1, 6th overall with D. Brabham & P. Dumbreck|
|2013||24 Hours of Le Mans, Murphy Oreca-03 Nissan LMP2, 7th in class with B. Hartley & M. Patterson|
|FIA GT Series, Seyffarth Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 / Vita4one Racing BMW Z4, 13th overall|
Playing cricket is very much the mainstay of almost every child growing up in India. What drew you to motorsport?
Racing has been my whole life since I was a kid. I’ve been obsessed with the sport and have grown up in a Motorsport environment (my grandfather raced in the 50’s and founded the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India and my dad has been racing since 1972). It was a natural progression for me to get involved in the sport. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a racing driver. When my friends were reading comics I was reading Autosport!!!
You started racing in Europe after success in the junior Asian series. How much of a change was it adapting to the British F3 environment – the change in culture, racing competitiveness, the circuits?
Brackley has been my home for close to 10 years now. It was definitely tough to leave my family and friends behind and move to England but I was clear in my mind that I wanted to reach the pinnacle of motorsport and the starting point was by driving in the British F3 Championship. Everything was new to me in terms of car, circuit, people etc. The cars were completely different to anything I had driven before as it is one of the most competitive series. I have always been good at learning circuits quickly and have done that since a young age. I consider Silverstone a ‘home’ race for me since I live less than 10 minutes away from the circuit and have driven there many times. However, next year I will have my home GP when the Indian GP takes place, which is fantastic for the country.
You’ve had a rather unique opportunity for a Formula 1 driver to represent your country in a motorsport series, the A1GP. What was your impression of the team, the series and your performance?
Representing my country is always fantastic as I am an Indian first before anything else. It was definitely an honour to be the first person to represent India in the world cup of motorsport. Unfortunately I drove only a couple of races so cannot comment much about the series.
You moved to GP2 and competed there for three seasons with the likes of Durango, iSport and Ocean Racing. Can you tell us about your time in GP2?
GP2 is easily the best stepping stone to F1. The cars are quick – the closest thing to F1 in the world, and we raced at the same circuits on the same day as F1 so there were a lot of big plus points there. Unfortunately, I did not have the best package during my time there but it was definitely a fantastic learning for me. Even the great Michael Schumacher chose to drive a GP2 car to warm up before his F1 tests started!!
You took a fantastic win at Spa-Francorchamps (pictured). What do you remember from that weekend?
My first GP2 win at Spa-Francorchamps in 2007 was a huge moment for me. I will never forget the national anthem being played as I stood on the top step of the podium. It was the first time that our national anthem had been played at a Formula One weekend for any Indian driver.
It had be a very long hard slog that year to get the sponsorship money to race in Europe and I was the last driver to do a deal that year to be on the GP2 grid so to win a race with a totally unfancied team was a huge boost to my career.
You tested with Red Bull Racing a couple of years ago. What were your impressions of the team and the car?
When I tested with Red Bull, it was an amazing feeling, not only to live out a lifelong dream but to also share the track with people I watched and idolized growing up, with Michael [Schumacher] returning for that test after his retirement. Red Bull provided me with the opportunity on the back of the win at Spa in the GP2 series and to be within 0.4 seconds of teammate David Coulthard on my first day in an F1 car was the icing on the cake.
How did you manage to secure the drive with Hispania Racing?
The road here has definitely been a very long and hard one. I have had many ups and downs in my career but I have never given up. I have won a race in almost every racing category that I have competed in so have always been confident that I have what it takes to compete at the highest level. We started talking to Adrian [Campos], then the owner of Campos Meta] since Valencia last year, but things were dragging on for various reasons. We started to look at other options and were close to other deals but nothing materialized. Then Colin [Kolles] called to say he was going to be taking over the running of the team. We were able to work very quickly with him and, along with Mr Ecclestone’s advice, sorted out a deal.
You’re partnered alongside a driver with one of the most famous motorsport surnames: Bruno Senna. But the two you were paired together during your time at iSport in GP2. What is Bruno like to work with and how well do you get on with him?
Bruno and I get along very well and we are really good friends off the track as well, which is not very common in this sport. A lot of people had said it will be hard working with him and his family and the rest of it, but that is not the case at all. He and his family are great people and we’re both mature enough to deal with the pressures. At iSport we had a great working relationship with the engineers so I think we can carry that on this year. We always had a similar style and similar requirements from the car which is good for the engineers to carry out parallel programs. I think because you are friends you trust each other a bit more.
You had one of the most difficult debuts imaginable at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The car had no testing and yours hadn’t even been assembled. Your first outing in the car came during qualifying. How was the weekend from your perspective?
Yeah Bahrain was far from ideal. I don’t think anyone in F1 has gone straight into qualifying without testing or a single lap of free practice. That was definitely not the way I envisioned my first race in F1. It was surreal feeling as it was my first F1 race. However I must add that when it happened, the feeling of accomplishment was the last thing on my mind as just before the start of the race, I was told about a possible hydraulics problem. So the only thing on my mind was whether we will get the car out. Before that, it was a good experience overall.
Were you offered any advice from notable F1 figures that weekend?
The paddock was very welcoming. Most of the drivers welcomed me, and I met Michael Schumacher in the drivers’ parade. It was very nice of him to come to me and introduce himself. He said ‘hello’ to me and then said ‘welcome to the gang’ and I talked to him briefly. I also had a chance to meet my idol Alain Prost, which was a very emotional moment for me.
The next race in Australia (pictured) was comparatively much better: a race finish! It must have been a very emotional experience for the team – how did you feel?
Melbourne was a definitely a step forward. I am very happy that we managed to finish in 14th position and more importantly finish the race.
To finish the race was very difficult and I was extremely satisfied to finish in only our second race. We got one car to the finish and that was a step in itself.
What are your aims for the 2010 season with Hispania Racing?
The target for this year is to spend the first half of the season collecting all the data we need to carry out improvements on the car, and be as consistent in our finishes as possible, so that we end the year as the most successful of the new teams on the grid.
What are your long-term aims in Formula 1 and motor sport in general?
For me it is quite simple – I want to win races and have a long career in Formula One.
Dr Vijay Mallya is one of your compatriots in the Formula 1 paddock. Although you’re from rival teams, you have a common interest in cricket and motorsport. What is your relationship like with Dr Mallya?
I have a perfectly good relationship with Vijay. Vijay and Force India were very clear with me from early on that they had their 2 race drivers signed up and the only possible opportunity was the test driver role. My ambition was always to race in F1 so we went ahead and explored every other avenue to look into being on the grid in 2010 as the test drivers today do just a couple days of testing with the new regulations. I have no personal issues with Vijay and continue to be friends with him and his family.
India looks set to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2011. You have an enormous role in enhancing the profile of motorsport in such a populous country that, traditionally, has not had a motorsport culture. Do you feel pressure from your homeland as an ambassador of India, and how successful do you believe an Indian Grand Prix will be?
India is rapidly becoming one of the most important and powerful players in the world of business culture and sport. India is an important market for Formula One. Motorsport has been on the rise in the country for the last couple of years and with the Indian GP scheduled to take place in 2011, awareness will increase.
Obviously there is a lot of hype and expectation on me from India, with 1.2 billion people and I will do my best not to disappoint anyone. It would be great to see many more companies step up to promote motorsport in the country as they stand to gain a lot.