• Karun Chandhok interview

Chandhok on F1 in India, safety and driving at home

ESPNF1 Staff
October 25, 2011

ESPNF1 asked Karun Chandhok to meet with journalists on the Monday ahead of the Indian Grand Prix weekend to talk about the race, its hype and all things to do with motorsport. He was happy to field questions and started by answering the most obvious one...

Karun Chandhok talks to the media at an ESPNF1 press conference © ESPNF1
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Will you be racing for Lotus this weekend?
As I sit here, this second, I still don't know the answer. I've been on the phone with Tony [Fernandes, Lotus team principal] a number of times over the last few days and weeks and he's said a number of times, both publically and privately, that for him personally he'd love for me to do the race. He's very passionate about Asian sports people and I'm sure personally he's having a bit of pain right now because he's having to make decisions between what is hard to for us to do and what he's struggling to do. We'll see, at the end of the day I will definitely be driving on Friday morning so it'll be a fantastic privilege to be one of the first people to drive a car on the track in free practice. I signed with Lotus with a long-term view of being back in F1 racing full-time. Obviously I raced with HRT last year and I joined Lotus this year as a reserve driver - taking hopefully one step back to take two steps forward. I'd love to be racing for Tony full-time, but whether it happens this year or next year or the year after that, we will wait and see. It's a tricky time, you've got to be patient sometimes in this business and look at the long-term view.

How does this uncertainty affect you, should you race on Sunday?
It means I have to answer the question a lot more! From my side, as a reserve driver, I go to every race fully prepared. I train as hard as usual and I bought myself a go-kart earlier this year and I take that to my local track and keep sharp with that. Mentally as well, if I was given the call-up to drive in any race - as I was in Germany when they told me on the Thursday morning - I think I am now mentally strong enough and experienced enough that I don't need a lot of time to prepare. It will just be nice not to have to answer questions about it anymore.

How confident are you with the car after the track time you've had this year, albeit a lot of it in the wet on Friday mornings?
Particularly in the last three months, I feel like a made good progress as a driver. I've basically been doing the simulator programme for the team - I think Heikki's done one day and Jarno hasn't done any, so I've been doing a lot of work in the simulator. I've been doing the Friday sessions, in which, unfortunately, the rain gods seem to appear every morning over my head when I get in the car. But I think the last three Fridays were very strong. Suzuka was a track we'd never been too before and we were comfortably ahead of the Virgins and HRTs. Korea was a track I'd never raced on and we were ahead of the Williamses as well, albeit it in the wet, but again we were ahead of the Virgins and HRTs, which is realistically where we at Lotus are at the moment. We're in a little bit of no-man's land where we are not quite close enough to race the midfield teams on a regular basis, but we seem to be decently ahead of the other two new teams.

We have heard a lot about the dangers of motor racing in the last week, do you think safety measures should be increased in F1 and other categories?
You can never make our sport completely safe. Particularly with Dan Wheldon, it was a complete shock when I heard about it. I was in Singapore airport and I literally couldn't speak for about 15 minutes. It is a shock when you hear that news because it touches a chord very close to home and gives you a sense of perspective. But on the other side, I'm a bit of a purist, in that I believe our sport has to have an element of danger. I always use the analogy that if you had a tightrope going between two tables and you had a guy walking across it, you'd have ten people watching. But if you had a tightrope going from one skyscraper to another, you'd have hundreds of people all watching from down below. There's an element of danger that - I don't know if sadistic is the right word - but people find it appealing in our sport. With Simoncelli, again it was very, very unlucky. I haven't actually seen the crash because I was travelling; I've just seen some pictures in the papers today, but again it sounded very unlucky. In Dan's case a bunch of people hit each other in front and he had nowhere to go, nothing he could have done. It's nobody's fault, it's just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's strange because I've had friends killed in road accidents, we've all known people involved in accidents on the road, and there is a sense of sadness, but the sense of shock in the industry when we see someone gets killed doing what we do week-in-week-out - it does add an extra element of shock. But at the end of the day, more people die on the roads of Delhi in one day than they do in a race track in one year, so you take your chances.

F1 cars will hit the track for the first official practice session on Friday © Getty Images
You must have fielded a lot of questions about what to do in India from people in F1...
I'm like the tourism board. I should have set up a desk in the paddock to answer questions.

What have you told the other drivers are the dos and don'ts in Delhi?
The dos I've told them is to try and stay another couple of days after the race, or come a few days earlier. On a race weekend... it's the same when I go to Shanghai or many of the other races, I've been to Shanghai the past two years and I have never seen the city. We arrive, we stay near the track and we go hotel-track-hotel-track-hotel-race-airport and we go off. It's the same in Istanbul, I've never seen anything of the city. That's why I've told a lot of people to get here early and see some of the city, because there is so much to see in Delhi let alone the rest of the country. The don'ts ... not a lot really. Some people are quite nervous. They all seem to be worried about this Delhi-belly food situation, which frankly I don't understand. It's not any worse than going to some of the other places we visit, it's just a reputation but I don't know where it comes from.

What do you think the story of this weekend's race will be, will it be another Red Bull walkover?
I don't think so. I did some track work in the simulator, and if I had to compare it I would say it is close to Korea, with a couple of long straights but then high-speed changes of direction and some slow-speed corners. And I know Vettel won the race in Korea, but McLaren were equally strong with Lewis on pole but then having some problems with the front wing in the race. I think McLaren will be just as strong in India. The Mercedes cars could also be strong here because the average speed is very high - our simulation says it is the second fastest after Monza - and the Mercedes cars have got a good straight-line speed. They are not on a level to fight Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari for the win, but we saw in Monza that they were in a good position for a lot of the time.

What kind of pit stop strategies are you expecting?
It's a strange one because we've got the soft and the hard compounds, which is a bigger split than at some other tracks - we had soft and super-soft in Korea for example. I think the difference between the two tyres will be nearly two seconds so it makes it a bit tricky. We have to see on Friday, because until you run and clear the dust and see what the asphalt is like, you don't know how abrasive it is or how the tyre wear will be. Friday practice will be particularly important exercise this weekend, I think we've all got an extra set of tyres to use on Friday morning so we'll get to do a bit more running.

Are you surprised to see the hard tyre back in action, because earlier this year we didn't think we would see it return?
I think it's because we've never raced here before. I know because the engineers who came here, I had to sort out their flights and hotels! They came and checked the circuit out and I spoke to them soon afterwards and they said it was just to err on the side of caution on a brand new track. It's not unexpected.

Karun Chandhok: "As an event outside of cricket, you could argue that we are the best of the rest" © ESPNF1
You visited a mall yesterday for a promotional event, what was the public's reaction like?
We had two simulators in the shopping mall and they had kids and people in it the whole day. I think we gave away about 25 or 30 tickets to people who did the best lap times during the day. Again, I was quite pleasantly surprised by how many people actually, a) knew who we were and b) knew about the race. These weren't people that you would expect to be fans of the race, typically they were people doing their Diwali clothes shopping and I think it is because everyone is reading about it. It's a circle and I have told many people over the last 10 years that it's a chicken and egg story. The only way the sport is going to grow is if we [the teams and drivers] do something, the press write about it, fans read about it and get excited, sponsors invest, we get more money, we do more, the press writes more... it's a circle. The only reason the fans are getting excited is because the show is in town, we are giving you something to write about and the press is responding fantastically and therefore people are reading and watching and getting excited. This is the circle and it is how we are going to develop a sport other than cricket in India. I'm completely biased, but I would argue the sort of hype we are seeing, we haven't seen it for tennis, football I don't think we've seen it, hockey I don't think we've seen as much as we have done over the last two weeks. As an event outside of cricket, you could argue that we are the best of the rest. We are never going to overtake cricket, it's unrealistic to expect that in our lifetimes, but it's nice to see us as the best of the rest, I would argue.