A freak collusion of epic engineering, lurid amounts of cash and man’s atavistic urge to prove that his magic is stronger than the other’s allows Karun Chandhok to live his dream. Formula1 is the evolutionary descendant of the long distance dash at tribal gatherings.
But if it was all brute sinew, muscle and guts then, today it’s money, money and money.
“It’s no different than how it has been in the last 20 years. But you with an unlimited cheque book will struggle to get anywhere near,” Chandhok barks back when asked how much the whole deal is about money. “It’s always been a capital intensive sport. A lot of drivers had more money to offer but were not signed up. You still have to be good.” Murmurs put Chandhok’s seat at Hispania Racing Team in the vicinity of 7.5 million euros (Rs 35.14 crore). A significant portion of that will have to be raised as the year unfolds.
Do you feel you belong in Formula 1? “I certainly think so. I have earned respect in the paddock. I had a shit season in 2009 (GP2). There were too many weekends when the car was not competitive enough. We had a chance to win in Monaco and Istanbul but car problems let us down. In the first half of the season in 2008, we were very strong, fifth in the championship. But didn’t have enough luck to string a season together.”
It’s about luck?
“Yes, many times, for everybody.”
Do you feel you have the speed?
“In my test with Red Bull (November ’07), I was within a few tenths of David Coulthard in my first day in the car. In GP2, I have competed with guys like (Bruno) Senna, (Romain) Grosjean, (Lucas) di Grassi and then Nelson Piquet and Adam Carrol in Formula 3.
“When we had luck on our side, we have been just as strong as any of these. I belong there and it was nice to see on going to the paddock on Friday just how many guys felt the same way. Rubens (Barrichello, (Mark) Webber, DC (Coulthard) all came up to me and many other team guys too.”
But nobody in India will understand that you just can’t perform in a poor car. “This is a far-from-ideal situation. But these are the cards I have been dealt. The point is, whether I can use this foothold to make a career in F1. We had the option of a proven team but could not raise the amount required.”
When will the team be up to scratch? “By Barcelona (the fifth race). By mid-season we need to be competing with the new teams and realistically our aim should be to be the best of the new teams by end-season. Personally, I need to establish myself as a credible, respectable F1 driver so that you are not sitting here next year asking me questions about do I feel I should be in F1.”
That N word
There is a belief that among Indian drivers you are technically superior while Narain Karthikeyan has the raw speed. “This is completely irrelevant. I refuse to enter into any comparison.” Do you think this is true? “I don’t think so. Unless you have two people on the same day in the same car and under the same circumstances, you can’t compare. “Our careers are so apart. He’s (Narain) eight years older to me, eight years ahead of me.”
Is this perception a monkey on your back? “I really don’t care. I refuse to get into this rat box of Indian motorsports with all these comparisons… there are thousands of drivers in the world, I refuse to enter this discussion.”
Do you think you’ve got lucky as F1 is coming to India and it needs a local driver? “Everyone needs luck. (Fernando) Alonso needed it … (Michael) Schumacher needed it to get the Mercedes deal. I don’t care. I feel very lucky. Next step is to be here for a long time.”
Enough of the serious stuff. With all those pit babes around how do you rate your chances of getting a steady girlfriend? “It’s the least of my concerns.”