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GP Week : Issue 13
O F ALL the drivers who stood on the podium over the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix weekend, there was one whose smile outshone all the others. Karun Chandhok was all set to finish a highly credible fourth in the Friday GP2 race, until the lapped Javier Villa punted off third-placed Mike Conway. Chandhok himself couldn’t quite believe his fortune, and laughed so hard he admits he too very nearly didn’t finish the race. But after some desperately disappointing months, the Indian reckons he was owed a bit of fortune. “Although I feel for Mike for being taken out on the last lap, I think I deserved that bit of luck because I’ve had plenty of bad luck this year,” he says, over lunchat his local pub in Brackley. “Asia was really, really frustrating because you turned up at every weekend thinking, am I going to f@#% it up or is somebody going to f@#% it up for me? It was a nightmare. I didn’t think we would come away from Asia with one podium, but I thought we deserved a lot more. To have four front row starts, and get one third place out of it was a proper kick in the nuts.” You don’t have to talk to Chandhok long to realise that here is a driver who tells it like it is. There’s something incredibly refreshing about him and his style. His rise to prominence in international single-seaters has come at a time when India is making big waves at the very peak of the sport. Vijay Mallya’s Force India project is bringing Formula 1 to a nation of 1.2 billion people, with one of the fastest growing economies on earth. With an Indian Grand Prix thought still to be in the offing, Karun is the country’s brightest F1 hope. But as Karun explains, there is a long way to go until India can hope to consistently challenge at the top of the sport. Karun’s Grandfather was one of the founding fathers of motorsport in his homeland, establishing the Federation of Motorsport Clubs in India. Karun’s father, today a prominent member of the FIA, began racing in the 1970s and the young Karun grew up surrounded by racing. Despite such privileged access, however, the route to the top was still a difficult one. “Unfortunately in India we never had any karting until two or three years ago. I didn’t have the opportunities that the Hamiltons or the Kovalainens had, where they had eight or nine years of karting, so that’s really hard when you come to Europe to compete against these guys who’ve been racing for years and years. “I’d started out with something similar to a Formula First championship in India, and I went on to do Formula Asia and then I came across to do Formula 3 in England, and that was really the big jump. It’s one thing to race in Asia, but when you commit to doing Formula 3 in the UK you move 6000 miles away from home, it’s cold, wet and horrible, living in the middle of Brackley with a few thousand people as opposed to nine million in Madras, you just get your head down.” The problem in India, according to Chadhok, is the lack of new talent coming through the ranks. “There’s karting now but it’s still very small. It’s progressing in stages but it’s still not as big as we want it to be. There is a karting championship but with only 15 or 20 karts taking part. The unfortunate thing is there aren’t enough new faces coming through the championship. We now have a slicks and wings championship, which didn’t exist when I was there, we have two new categories also, but the 40