Despite holding high hopes that he would return to the cockpit and race at his home Grand Prix, Karun Chandhok – along with his thousands of Indian fans – will be disappointedly watching from the sidelines, after Team Lotus announced that it would stick with its usual driver line-up for this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix.
This was despite repeated hints from Team Lotus boss Tony Fernandes that he would like to see his reserve driver on the grid for the sport’s first visit to the subcontinent, although there had also been suggestions that contractual clauses in the contracts of main drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli would veto such a move.
In announcing its decision, Fernandes has argued that Chandhok’s lack of dry-weather running in the T128 this year was also a factor, while the Malaysian also acknowledged that the team still risked losing its tenth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings to either HRT or Virgin Racing if they had a strong result this weekend.
“From the team perspective the key goal for us this weekend is to maintain the performance levels we saw in the last two races and while I am sure there will be fans in India who want to see Karun race for us on Sunday we had to make the best decision for the future of the team,” a team media release quotes Fernandes as saying.
“While all the emotional reasons for him driving were right we were conscious that the limited running he has had in the car this season, largely due to the weather conditions that have hit most of his FP1 sessions, has not given him the best preparation for this race, so we have taken the very difficult decision not to run him in the race this weekend.
“It is absolutely vital that we secure tenth place in 2011 to give us the platform to keep growing and despite the fact that Karun’s performance levels have continued to improve every time he has driven for us in 2011, it was considered too much pressure to put on Karun to drive in his first home race, deal with all the attention he would have had and be able to perform at the same level as either of our regular race drivers over the whole weekend.
“For that reason we had to take the pragmatic decision to put our faith in the experience and pace we have in Jarno and Heikki, and are confident they will continue to perform at the level they have over the last two years with us. While this is obviously not the decision Karun wanted us to take he understands that we have to take the long-term view and do so in the best interests of the team.
“He also understands that his relationship with our team is not about just one race, it is about growing together and while this is an historic event, there will be many opportunities to race in India in the future, and he is in the best possible place with us to take advantage of those chances in seasons to come.”
While he still still take part in the opening Friday practice session for Team Lotus, the 27-year-old’s absence from the starting grid is a big blow for the event. While that is not meant to detract from his compatriot Narain Karthikeyan being in the HRT cockpit, Chandhok has been an integral figure in the lead-up to the inaugural race.
“I’m obviously disappointed that I won’t be on the grid for the first Indian Grand Prix,” he told AUTOSPORT shortly after the announcement was made.
“I’m sure it’s been a tough call for Tony [Fernandes] to make and on some level I think he’s feeling some pain about it as we’ve always had a good personal relationship,” he added.
“The team have opted to go for experience at this time but I will go to the paddock in Delhi with my head held high because I feel I did everything possible in and out of the car especially over the last three months to show Tony that I can be in F1 in the longer term.
“I’m so proud to support the Jaypee Group in this historic weekend for Indian sport," said Chandhok. "For all the fans, including the hundreds from my home town in Chennai who have bought tickets in the hope of seeing me race and are travelling thousands of kilometres to Delhi, I hope that they all still have a wonderful time at the BIC [Buddh International Circuit].”