Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

Flashback: India 2011 - Chandhok remembers historic first race 23 Oct 2013

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) leads at the start of the 2011 Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi Karun Chandhok (IND) Team Lotus T128 Reserve Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Practice Day, Friday, 28 October 2011 (L to R): Karun Chandhok (IND) Team Lotus Reserve driver with Narain Karthikeyan (IND) HRT Formula One Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Practice Day, Friday, 28 October 2011 Circuit detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Preparations, Wednesday, 26 October 2011 Karun Chandhok (Lotus) and Vicky Chandhok (President of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India), 2011 Indian Grand Prix, New Delhi Scenic action. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 150 Italia.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011 Race winner Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 30 October 2011

It goes without saying that there was a huge sense of excitement ahead of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in October 2011. With one of the longest straights in Formula One racing, a challenging 16-turn layout, a wide track to encourage overtaking, and 14 metres of elevation changes, the brand new Buddh International Circuit promised thrilling action, and better still it was only a stone's throw away from the country’s vibrant capital city, New Delhi.

As with any new race, the feeling of anticipation had been growing amongst the drivers throughout the season, but no one felt it more strongly than Indian racer Karun Chandhok, the Team Lotus (now Caterham) reserve driver who, along with his father Vicky (the president of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India), had been heavily involved in the project from the very beginning.

“The first time I went to the site was in April 2010 and it was a massive dirt field,” remembers Chandhok today. “You could see they’d moved the earth around and there were a few elevation contours, but there was nothing that resembled a race track.

“I think between that date and the race in October 2011 I probably visited the site 20 times. When they first put the asphalt down the organisers called me to come and drive and to point out any bumps in the track that needed ironing out, and when they were installing the kerbs they wanted to know what I thought. Then the layout of Turn 5 was changed slightly and they called me again to come down and have a drive around to see what I though before they had it signed off. So I was involved all the way through.”

Both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles had been decided by the time the Formula One fraternity arrived in India, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull respectively scooping the honours. But that didn’t diminish the interest of the Indian media, especially as Chandhok and countryman Narain Karthikeyan would both be driving.

“In the run up to the event I think we worked it out that I did 50 interviews in three days,” recalls Chandhok, “and we’re not talking group interviews either - we’re talking one-on-ones...”

Unfortunately for Chandhok, his race deal with Lotus fell through, but he did have the honour of leading Karthikeyan and the other drivers out onto the track in FP1, an experience he describes as being “fantastic”.

“To go out there and drive an F1 car on the circuit in anger in FP1 and see the event unfold, there was a huge sense of pride,” he says. “My first impression was how dusty it was. You sometimes forget that you’re in the middle of a desert. But I thought the circuit had a really good flow to it, which you don’t always get on modern circuits.”

Chandhok’s fellow drivers agreed with his assessment.

“The track is fantastic - the organisers here in India have done a great job,” said McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who topped the timesheets in FP1. “It’s very fast and flowing, the grip level is fantastic, the run-off areas seem to be good, and the kerbs are probably the best of any circuit we visit: nice rumble-strips that you can drive on.”

“It’s great fun to drive,” agreed Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button. “There are some tough corners, like Turns 3 and 5, but there’s also a lot of high-speed stuff and it feels a lot faster than we initially thought it would.”

Clearly the layout also agreed with the newly-crowned world champion; Vettel went fastest in FP3 before taking his 13th pole position of the season in convincing fashion.

On race day a huge crowd gathered to watch Formula One cars race in anger in India for the very first time. In the paddock, local musicians and dancers helped lend the event an even greater Indian feel, whilst traditional Indian snacks were handed out in the press room.

“There was a huge attendance, from celebrities, cricket players, business tycoons - we had endorsement from the whole of India - 110,000 people showed up for the race,” recalls Chandhok.

“In India cricket is a religion, but the newspapers on the morning of race day had four pages of F1 news and then just one page combining all the cricket news and everything else in sport. It was completely unprecedented and, to me, a very good sign.”

After an impeccably-observed minute’s silence to honour the memories of recently-departed Indycar driver Dan Wheldon and MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli, the crowd witnessed Vettel deliver a driving masterclass in a little over one hour and 30 minutes. Having made a clean getaway at the start, the German produced one of the most emphatic performances of his career to record his first ‘Grand Chelem’ (pole, fastest lap, race win, led every lap) and surpass the record for the most laps led in a single season.

Button did his best to take the fight to Vettel, bringing himself into contention with two feisty moves on the opening lap, but despite wringing every last bit of performance from his McLaren, second was the best he could manage.

Behind Button, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso fought valiantly to claim the final podium spot, looking after his tyres at the key moments before stealthily snatching third place from the second Red Bull of Mark Webber after the final round of pit stops.

As Vettel stood on the podium in the evening light and basked in the adulation of the crowd, flanked by Button and Alonso, Formula One racing could reflect on a successful transition to a new sub-continent.

“Growing up in India you’d watch F1 on television, but you’d never imagine that we’d have a Grand Prix,” says Chandhok. “I think I believed in my own dream of being in F1 more than I believed in F1 coming to India - it seemed more achievable.”

Both dreams had been years in the making, but - in true fairytale fashion - both became reality.

For tickets and travel to 2013 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 merchandise, click here.