Living out a dream

Karun Chandhok will become only the second Indian after Narain Karthikeyan to drive in Formula One

Living out a dream

on cloud nine: Karun Chandhok (left) and his HRT team-mate Bruno Senna.

The 26-year-old from Chennai won’t quite be the star of the show -- that status will be enjoyed by the likes of the returning seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, defending titlist Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton -- but come Bahrain and next Sunday, an entire nation will keenly follow the fortunes of their countryman in car number 20.

In this chat with Deccan Herald from Murcia in Spain, Chandhok reflects on the journey that has been, and looks ahead to his debut season with hope and confidence. Excerpts:
You have been racing in the hope of one day making it to Formula One. Now that it has happened, has it sunk in fully yet?

In all honesty, I’m really tired. I’ve been to so many interviews, my head is buzzing. I’ve been reading stuff in the newspapers and online, and it really hasn’t sunk in yet. Despite the fatigue and everything else, one thing is for sure -- this is a very, very special feeling. You dream of driving in the Formula One when you are three or four years old and all of a sudden, it happens. You can imagine what sort of trip I must be on.

When did you find out about the deal?

I got the news about ten days back, and I knew it was going to happen but some things needed to be sorted out, so we did not make a public announcement. I think it was in the best interest of the company and their drivers.

Could you tell us more about Hispania?

HRT F1 (Hispania Racing Team) is a newly formed team which will run alongside new entrants like Lotus and Virgin this year. The team was bought over by Jose Ramon Carbante from Adrian Campos and Colin Kolles is the team principal. Dallara are in charge of designing our chassis and Cosworth are providing us with a state-of-the-art engine. All of this pretty much means we’ve put together a great team and the possibility of putting the team on the F1 map is not out of question.

It must be hard for any team to make its debut in F1, and harder without any pre-season testing. What’s the team eyeing this season in terms of performance?

Our goal early on in the season is to show the world that we are a credible company. The focus is to gain some mileage, reliability and experience in the first season. We’ll probably be off the mark in the first four races but from Catalunya, Spain, we will prove a challenge. You never know, we could also bag some points late in the season.

Did you expect the Formula One debut to happen this fast?

My father (Vicky Chandhok) has been in talks with several teams since August. It was only a matter of time before all the effort put in by my family and rest of the racing community got me the chance. I had a very disappointing 2009 season in GP2 but everyone had already made a note of my potential. After chasing a seat for a long time, I finally found a great team to drive with. Colin Kolles has shown a lot of faith in me and it helps to have the backing of someone who has known me for long in a sport like Formula One.

I know it’s a little too early for this but could you talk us through the lifestyle of an F1 driver?

I’ve been on eight flights in seven days and that’s as hectic as it can get in F1. I’m used to the pressures of travelling around the world but this is something else. Since winter, I’ve been training harder than ever before and my body is at its fittest. I weigh about as much as I weighed when I was 14 years old. I’m in a good place mentally to put on a great show. My family has shown great character and support. They have been a part of every landmark moment in my life and this is as big a landmark as there can be. They know that I’m going to be travelling more and we’ll have to settle with phone conversations for now. These are the things you sacrifice for a career in F1.

Do you still think the jump from GP2 to F1 isn’t massive?

I justified that statement sometime back, and I’ll do it again. When you jump from GP2 to Formula One, it is not a ‘Oh my lord, it’s all so fast’ thing. It’s a big jump, no doubt, but not as big as jumping from A1 to GP and by that, I don’t mean to say F1 is any easier. F1 is more car and engineer-dependent. Drivers could have all the skill in the world but without the right set-up, there’s no race to be won. F1 is all about hard work and the grit to hold on to what you believe in.

Having partnered Bruno Senna in iSport International, do you think it will help a new team to have drivers familiar with each other?

Bruno is a great friend of mine. It feels really nice to catch up with him. We spoke to engineers and our basic set-up in the car is very similar. We are running on parallel programmes and I think it’ll show when we line-up in Bahrain. We could be great friends off the track but on the track, it’s each one on his own. Both of us know that. It makes for great competition and it’s great for the team.

Force India owner Vijay Mallya has time and again downplayed the possibility of an Indian driver taking part in F1 but you’ve proved him wrong. Is there anything you’d like to say?

No! Not with regard to his opinion. He called me and wished me well. Force India required something else at that point of time and they have now turned into a very good team. I hold nothing against Vijay. I wanted to drive in F1 and it didn’t matter to me which team I drove for. My priority is to stay in F1 and give it my best. I will consider driving for Force India if an offer does pop up and if they are still on a high, in terms of racing.

How does it feel to be the world’s fastest Indian?

I know now, even as we speak, that there are a number of comparisons being drawn between Narain and me, but I want to clear this out. He is who he is and I am who I am.
We are very different drivers. Narian called me and congratulated me. I’m just happy that I was the one lucky guy in a population of 1.3 billion to make it to the grandest motor sport there can be. I can, without any hesitation, say that my time has come.


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