Q & A with Karun Chandhok

Karun Chandhok's last minute deal with Hispania completed the Formula 1 grid for 2010, but the Indian makes his grand prix debut for a team that has not tested its car yet

Q & A with Karun Chandhok

As preparations for the Bahrain Grand Prix got underway at Sakhir today, Chandhok spoke exclusively to AUTOSPORT about his expectations and getting used to being an F1 driver.

Q. It must have been a bit of a whirlwind week for you. How have things been?

Karun Chandhok: I obviously knew a little bit earlier than the public that it was happening. So I had been to Dallara before and finished the seat - and stuff like that. But it has been a very hectic 10 days. It was almost like having a bus service between Valencia and Parma in Italy for me last week - as I went back and forth about four times.

But we are here now. The main thing is that there are two cars here. It is going to be a tough weekend, so let's not kid ourselves about it. Friday is going to be very tough to get the cars to do some runs. This weekend is just about reliability and literally getting mileage - rather than performance.

But, hats off to Colin [Kolles], Dallara and all the engineers because a month ago the project didn't look so good - and they have managed to work 20 hour days to get here. It is a first step, and I think from Barcelona onwards is when we can say our real season starts.

Q. During the winter, was your sole focus on getting into F1?

KC: Yes, for sure. At the end of the day, we had some options to be test driver with other teams up and down the pitlane. So the options were: be a test driver and do two or three days of testing a year; we could have gone back to GP2 as we had plenty of options on the table, but really I felt ready to do F1.

We had a bit of a rubbish season in GP2 last year but that was down to circumstance more than anything else. I felt myself, personally, I was ready to do F1. We had spoken to Adrian [Campos] since we met in Valencia last year, and then we were discussing with all four of the new teams, plus some of the existing ones.

So I was quite optimistic that something would happen in F1, but also both my dad and I were clear in our minds that if we had to make the break, then this year was our best chance because there were new seats available.

Once you got past this year then the system reverts to normal and everything goes back to its place again. You don't know if those drivers will roll on to 2011, so this year presented a prime opportunity - and here we are.

Q. So how does it feel to be here, and how did it feel getting on the plane out here?

KC: That was the first time it really started to sink in. Because there has been so much going on, especially with the press back in India. There has been so much work to do in such a short space of time. Even sorting out helmets or whatever, there is a lot to do in a short space of time. It was only when I got on the plane that it started to sink in - especially when you see all the other team people on the plane.

Now we are here, it is quite nice. The same security guy who shoved me down the road last year to park in the desert waved me through the gate today! That was pretty good.

Q. How difficult and how big a hurdle do you think this weekend will be?

KC: It is going to be extremely tough. We haven't even done a shakedown - so it's no secret it is going to be a bloody tough weekend. I think if you look on the plus side, at least Dallara are a respected [racing] car manufacturer and they have built cars before, so we should be in a slightly better position than if it was with someone else doing it independently. And the people involved are good people.

Starting on the Dallara side, there are aero guys like Ben [Agathangelou], then we have someone like Geoff Willis on board. There are good engineers as well - they are all people who have done F1 recently. So in that respect, looking at it for the medium to long term, I am optimistic that we can get better. But it is no secret that this weekend is going to be tough.

Q. And what about the difficulties of getting on with your programme while other drivers are out there trying to show how good they are?

KC: It is very tough. It is very tough to make yourself look good in F1 because you are so strongly influenced by the car and by the team. So, I think the only thing we can do is think that over the first four weekends there is nothing to gain. You can only lose by doing something stupid.

I think the first four weekends are just about being respectable, being credible, trying to just establish ourselves as mature drivers who are ready to be in F1. That is all Bruno [Senna] and I can do for the first four weekends.

Q. There has been a lot of focus about how the new teams are getting on, and some comments expressing worries about the time differentials between the quick cars and the new boys. What do you say about that?

KC: I have stopped reading the media as much as possible, but there have been a lot of comments that have come recently. In all honesty, I can appreciate these concerns to some extent - because if I was in their situation then I would be concerned as well. The last thing you want in Q3, on the last lap when the circuit has cleaned up, is to get someone in your way.

But first of all I would be amazed if any of the new teams get to Q3. And secondly, at the end of the day I am quite fortunate in that I have a great respect and a great sense of history in F1 - and I remember not so long ago, just look at the early 2000s, the gap between the front and the back wasn't like it is now. Then if go further back, look at 1997 for example when Jacques Villeneuve was on pole with Heinz-Harald Frentzen was alongside him, they still had the same five or six seconds gap.

So, all those guys [complaining] are only thinking of the last two or three years. But F1 is not about the last two years if you look back in history, which I do. Maybe they need reminding of that.

Q. And doesn't the fact that there has been so much talk over the winter about new teams show why they are important - because people are interested?

KC: At the end of the day, the more cars there are on the grid and the more independent teams there are - I don't think it is a bad thing. We have seen in the last 18 months how the manufacturers can change their mind. It is important to have the manufacturers, because it adds a lot of credibility to F1, but you have to have both - as you cannot just have the manufacturers. We saw over the last 18 months, they can change their minds fairly quickly.

Q. So what is a realistic target for you this weekend? Just getting to the finish?

KC: I think so. I think that has to be the first target. Don't forget that we are two rookies here, so we need as much mileage as possible. Every lap we do is going to be important to learn. I think realistically, we just need to be reliable this weekend - and Melbourne will be the same. When we get to Malaysia, we will have a slightly better situation because we will have two weekends under our belts, and then we can start pushing on. Realistically our main target is to be best of the new teams - hopefully by mid-season. I think when we get to Silverstone and Hockenheim time we should be there.

Q. And it is a help for you that you are working alongside someone you've been team-mates with before?

KC: Yeah it is good. We are mates more than anything else. So we are quite happy to sit down and have a meal together - we did last night, and we did at the launch. I get on well with him.

A lot of people have said it will be hard work with him and his family and the rest of it, but it is not. He is a top bloke. We got on really well at iSport. We worked well with the engineers, and I think because you are friends you trust each other a bit more.

In GP2 it was slightly more important because you only had one free practice session, so we would go into a weekend and run a parallel programme. I would run sometimes 60kg, he would run the low fuel and different gear ratios. I don't think we ever did free practice with the same ratios. After that, we would sit down and make comparisons - and we were mature enough to know that by helping each other it benefits everybody. We will carry that on here.

It is a bit strange because we are both coming into F1 with slightly similar circumstances. Obviously there is a lot of hype and expectation on me from India, with 1.2 billion people, but I would say there are just as many Ayrton Senna fans on the planet! Both our phones have rung off the hook, and the poor press officer is going mental because she has got so many requests and emails for both sides.

It is nice that we are in sort of similar situations. So to go through this process together is great. Even the little things, like the FIA impact test today, it is nice to share the experience with someone else. But at the end of the day, once we get in the car then everything will be different.

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