Exclusive interview with Karun Chandhok 14 Nov 2007
With Dr Vijay Mallyas Spyker takeover and the prospect of hosting its own Grand Prix on the cards, India has made a real impact on Formula One racing this season. Chennai-born GP2 driver Karun Chandhok has been busy too and this week made his Formula One debut for Red Bull.
Following in the footsteps of original trailblazer Narain Karthikeyan, Chandhok is only the second Indian driver to get a taste of Formula One power. We caught up with the 23 year-old in Barcelona to discuss his first impressions of the RB3 and to find out about his future plans
Q: Karun, how did it feel to drive a Formula One car for the first time?
Karun Chandhok: It was a huge day for me to be here in Barcelona along with all the other teams and have my first run in an F1 car. The team have been really good and prepared me well for this day. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do a shakedown in the UK and spend some time in the simulator but nothing fully prepares you for the real thing! A Formula One car is something special and to be one of the few people in the world to drive one feels pretty cool!
Q: Would you say that your win at this years GP2 race at Spa was one of the reasons why Red Bull brought you here?
KC: For sure I think it helped but if you look at the season as a whole, we were making good progress all through the second half of the season. The GP2 series is fantastic in that respect because all the key people in the F1 paddock keep an eye out for the drivers there, so I think its a great benefit for any driver.
Q: Was there a big difference between your normal workplace - the cockpit of a GP2 car - and the RB3?
KC: Yes for sure that was one of the big differences. Even with all the reduction in electronics there are still a lot of controls on the steering wheel and a lot of procedures to remember which makes it more complicated than the GP2 car. The nice thing is that although Formula One is the top of the ladder, the GP2 car actually feels bigger so psychologically its not such a big problem to get into an F1 car.
Q: How did you prepare physically for the test and how did you familiarise yourself with the car before driving on Tuesday?
KC: I did some more training for my neck but to be honest I was in Italy for the last three weeks anyway with my trainer preparing for next year so its been well timed! Like I said before I got a chance to spend some time at the teams factory in Milton Keynes to meet the people and get to know the systems, as well as spend some time in the teams simulator.
Q: You seem to be planning your career very carefully. You won the Formula Asia V6 Renault series in 2006, this season you raced in GP2, the feeder series for Formula One racing, and now you are knocking at the doors with a Formula One test. How do you see your career progressing over the next two years?
KC: Im looking to do a second season of GP2 next year and to be a Formula One driver in 2009 for sure. That is my aim and if I have a good year in GP2 next season combined with some Formula One testing I think it is an achievable target.
Q: This year India has clearly demonstrated it hopes to become part of the Formula One family. Indian billionaire Dr Vijay Mallya has become a team co-owner and there is the prospect of an Indian Grand Prix in the near future. Will you take the next step and secure a Formula One cockpit? Have you spoken to Dr Mallya - surely a drive with Force India would be the perfect fit?
KC: Mallyas buyout of Spyker is good for India and Indian motorsport as it gives us more credibility within the sport. At the moment people in India have presumed that it means that there will automatically be Indian drivers. What you have to remember is that while there is a 50 per cent Indian owner of the team, Formula One is a global sport with a global audience. Vijay has already made it clear on several occasions in public that the driver choice will be based on who is the most suitable rather than where hes from and thats fair enough.
He was at several of the race weekends this season and saw that I had a strong run in the second half of the year. Obviously, I have spoken with him but Im still only 23, so another year of GP2 will still keep me well within the age window to race from 2009 onwards and also give me a chance to gain more top-level European racing experience.
At the moment I am testing for Red Bull Racing, who are an increasingly strong mid-field team with huge potential and I am very happy with that. What the future holds for 2008 and beyond, Im not entirely sure at the moment but Id like to think that I have done a good enough job here with Red Bull to get some more testing days next year combined with a GP2 program.
As for the Grand Prix, of course it will be fantastic for me if I could be on the grid for that first Indian Grand Prix. It is now a realistic probability and that is very exciting for anyone involved in Indian sport. Formula One is a global sporting phenomenon with a prestige value on a par with the Football World Cup and the Olympics so it would be of huge value to India.
Q: Should we expect to see you in a Formula One car over the winter test period?
KC: There are no plans at the moment as testing is very limited and the race drivers need to get used to the cars without traction control and the new electronics, but we will see if that changes.