Not many people have had as tough a start to their F1 career as Karun Chandhok. The Indian racer only signed for the Hispania team 10 days before the season opener in Bahrain, where hydraulic problems kept him in the garage throughout free practice. His first taste of the car came in qualifying.
But since that difficult debut Karun’s impressed a lot of people. He got the car to the chequered flag for the first time in Australia then repeated the feat a week later in Malaysia, where he also out-qualified and outraced teammate Bruno Senna.
And it’s not just in the car Karun’s been impressing. Outside the cockpit he’s been winning fans with his open, easygoing attitude. Put simply Karun is a good guy. Such a good guy in fact that he took some time out between the Chinese and Spanish Grand Prix to talk to Badger about his F1 debut, the sport’s arrival in India and having a curry named after him at a Brackley restaurant. Spicy…
First off, congratulations on getting the drive with Hispania and finishing in both Australia and Malaysia. The deal with the team came about pretty late; how did it develop from your side of things?
Yeah, thanks a lot. I think finishing in Australia and Malaysia was a huge achievement for both myself and the team. Considering we had almost no running at all, to finish in 14th and 15th respectively was a great performance by the team.
It’s been a long hard road to get here. I’ve had many ups and downs in my career but I’ve never given up. You know, I’ve won a race in almost every racing category that I’ve competed in, so I’ve always been confident that I have what it takes to compete at the highest level.
We started talking to Adrian [Campos, Hispania’s previous owner] at Valencia last year, but with so much uncertainty things were dragging on. We started to look at other options and were close to other deals but nothing materialized. Then Colin Kolles got in touch with us to say he was taking over the running of the team. With Bernie’s advice we were able to work very quickly with Colin and sort out a deal.
You said in an interview last season that you had over 1,500 contacts in your phone. How many more have you added to that since the start of the season, or did you decide to throw the phone away to get some peace and quiet?
Could you give us an idea of what the Hispania boys have been through to get you and Bruno to the grid?
Considering we had no pre-season testing at all, we knew we had an uphill task for the start of the season. The boys have been absolutely brilliant, working around the clock to get the car ready. Bahrain was really tough on them as they spent most nights without any sleep at all. Australia and Malaysia were similar but it is definitely good to see that we are all here working towards making the car better and faster. One thing is clear in our minds: we are not here to make up the numbers– we are here to compete.
What was that first qualifying lap in Bahrain like?
Bruno was your teammate back in your GP2 days as well. Has the fact that the two of you already know each other helped the team settle quickly?
Bruno and I get along very well and we are really good friends off the track as well- which isn’t very common in this sport. He and his family are great people and we’re both mature enough to deal with the pressures. We both have the same objective– which is to be more competitive- and we know we have to work together to achieve that objective. At iSport we had a great working relationship with the engineers so it is definitely an advantage for us. We always had a similar style and similar requirements from the car which is good for the engineers to carry out parallel programs. And I think because you are friends you trust each other a bit more.
Also we’re told you’re a Prost fan- does Bruno know about this?
Yeah Bruno knows and we have a good laugh about it! I grew up watching both Senna and Prost battle each other so both had a huge influence on me.
Thinking about this season, what are your short and long-term aims? Do you think points are a possibility down the line or is that too much to ask?
Well, the short-term aim is definitely to catch up with the other new teams. On the reliability front we’ve been really strong so we will have to ensure we continue with that while going faster as well.
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’s the support from India been like since the season started?
The reaction to my promotion to F1 has been fantastic. I’ve had so many messages on my Twitter page and my website- it’s been quite overwhelming. There’s been so much support from within India and also the Indian communities around the world who’ve said that they will come to the races with Indian flags in hand to support me, which is great to hear. The media has been very good in the last few weeks despite the IPL [The hugely popular Indian Permier League of cricket] obviously taking up so much of their time.
Speaking of Twitter you’ve made plenty of use of it this year to keep your supporters up to date. How important do you think it is for F1 fans to have this sort of interaction with the drivers?
Well I’ve been tweeting for the past 8 months now and I think it is a great way to not only interact with the fans but also give them an insight into a life of an F1 driver. There are quite a few of us drivers who tweet along with the teams. It gives the fans a way to understand what is going on inside the team as well. For me an important side to it is the interaction with the fans.
Back to India, your home country will of course be hosting its first grand prix in 2011. What would it mean for you to race there next year?
Obviously there is a lot of hype and expectations on me from India, with 1.2 billion people, and I’ll do my best not to disappoint anyone! I hope that I can be in a position where we are more competitive for the rest of this season and that I’m in a competitive position next year. But there’s no doubt being the only Indian driver lining up for the first Indian GP will be a special feeling. It would be great to see many more companies step up to promote motorsport in the country as they stand to gain a lot.
From a racing perspective, what would make 2010 a good year for Karun Chandhok?
Well if we can score some points by the end of the season it will be a massive achievement, not only for me but the team as well. If we could be the best of the new teams then all of our objectives for the season will be achieved.
A few non-racing questions to finish. If you could invite any 5 people to dinner, dead or alive, who would you invite and why?
That would be… Prost, Senna, Ron Dennis, Bernie and Frank Williams.The stories I’d get out of them would be legendary!
That still ended up being about racing! We hear your favourite meal is ‘Karun’s Special’ from the Kushboo restaurant in Brackley. How did you end up with a meal named after you and what exactly is it?
Well, when I went there for dinner one night, I ended up food tasting for them and they ended up naming that dish after me. The ‘Karun’s Special’ is a mix of a certain type of Indian bread with minced lamb inside it along with some potatoes.
Favourite book, movie and tipple?
It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong. Favourite movie would be Top Gun. I don’t drink alcohol too much but do enjoy the occasional glass of red wine.
Finally, if you weren’t a racing driver- scary thought, we know- and could choose any other job in the world what would it be?
Quite simple – F1 Commentator!