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The Rediff Interview/Karun Chandok
'My dream is to drive for Williams'
May 30, 2003
I have spent my entire day doing promotions," said Karun Chandok just before he sat down for a tête-à-tête . But he was not tired. In fact, he was enjoying his moment in the sun. In India, there are precious few sportsmen, save our cricketers, who get attention from the media, and Chandok is one of them.
Born in 1984, this young driver has quickly made his mark on the motor-racing scene. From his National Championship triumph in 2000 to the Asian Championship the year after that to his current second place in the British Formula Three standings, Chandok has indeed come a long way. The racing prodigy speaks to Ashish Magotra about his future plans, aspirations and motor-racing.
How important is the Formula Three experience for you?
Formula Three is a junior step to Formula One. It is the most successful route to Formula One. More drivers have gone from Formula Three to Formula One than from any other category in the world. Today, apart from maybe one or two drivers on the grid (in Formula One), everyone else has come from Formula Three. So it is definitely the place to be.
People talk about the difference in power between the cars in the two categories. How big a difference is it?
Everything in Formula Three is one step lower. The power of the cars, the wheel-base is a little bit less, the down-force is less. But it's logical. You have to walk before you can run; you have to train yourself in Formula Three before you move up to Formula One.
If we talk numbers then the difference is even greater. In Formula Three, the cars produce around 240 horse power; in Formula One those cars produce over 800hp. The F1 cars are heavier than ours, so the power to weight ratios are difficult to calculate as well. They do top speeds of over 350 kmph and we do top speeds of 265 kmph. So there is a big difference, but we are learning.
What is the secret of going really fast? Is it reflexes or being a natural, or is it something that you learn over a period of time?
I think it is the complete package. You have to have some natural ability. It's like any sport; a driver can make himself good but to become the best he has to have some natural talent to start with. Only the talented have that little bit extra. So, it is a combination of everything.
Talking about being naturally talented, all talent needs to be spotted and nurtured. What do you see your breakthrough moment as?
In 2000, when I won the National Championship. It was my first year of racing, and I beat a lot of people who had been racing for a number of years. That surprised a few people. And, then, the next year when I raced internationally and won, I think that proved to a lot of people that I could race and win. People realised I do have talent and, I think, that win in Formula Asia changed a lot of things.
Steven Kane, who is your T-Sport team mate, is leading the F3 championship (Scholarship class). Your views on the matter?
We are both fighting for the championship. We have both won four races each and the only reason he is leading the championship is because I did not finish one race and he won that. And that is the difference of 20 points. So it's not like he is from a different planet or he is dominating. Nothing of the sort. I have got more pole positions that him. So it is not big a difference as you think it is.
When you talk about experience in racing, what is that all about?
I think it boils down to a lot more than just knowing the track. It's about race experience, it's about learning how to drive wheel to wheel, it's about different weather conditions; driving in the rain, 60 mph gale force winds pushing you off the circuit. There is so much to learn about the car, how to set-up a race car, and it is not easy. You only learn that by driving more and gaining more experience. You have to work as a package with the mechanics and the engineers, all working towards the same goal. So that on race-day we are as competitive and well-balanced as possible.
What kind of preparation do you go through before a race?
Motor-racing is a very physical sport. I train three-four hours everyday. I play badminton, I do mountain-biking and weights. I do so many things just to ensure that I keep fit. At the end of the day, it is just a matter of being at the top of your game when race-day arrives.
Who is your idol?
It has to be Alain Prost [four-time F1 champion]; he has been my childhood hero and my all-time idol. I think Prost was a tactical genius. He was brilliant off the circuit as well. Formula One is very political; not a very easy environment to work in. But he was brilliant, both on and off the circuit, and that's one thing I admire greatly.
You said Prost was a brilliant tactical driver. Are you more in his mould or are you more of a dare-devil driver, like say -- Jacques Villeneuve?
At the moment, I am more the subtle-sort-of-thinking types. Steven [Kane] is exactly the opposite, as you say the daredevil types. He just goes for his stuff. But I think and plan a little more; I am more conscious of the overall picture of things.
Does cricket's massive popularity in comparison with your sport hurt you?
Obviously, it hurts us. Like I say, the corporate support is just not there. If we get 1/10th the money that cricket gets, I think Narain Karthikeyan and I could run full budget for the whole year. It's bad. But you have hockey players, tennis players all saying the same thing, but that's the way things are. But, unfortunately, cricket is where the heart of the nation lies.
What's your strategy for getting a shot at Formula One?
You need to do the best job you can with the junior teams to be offered a chance with the Formula One teams. So, at the moment, I am concentrating on that and making sure that the Formula One teams know what I am doing; so that they know there is this kid from India who can drive and when the chance arises say 'let's give him a Formula One car'. You have to create that enthusiasm.
Were you of the opinion that Formula One was getting boring with Ferrari winning all the time?
Yes, It was. It's not good for the sport because the spectators lose interest. But you can't turn around and ask Ferrari to go and make a bad car. They have done a brilliant job with the F2002; one of the best ever made in Formula One.
So who are your favourites to win the Formula One championship this year?
I have always been a Williams fan. My dream is to drive for Williams Grand Prix Engineering. But the new car has seen Ferrari storming back into the championship and it looks like the championship is heading back to Maranello [Ferrari] this year too.
Karun Chandok's achievements:
2000 - Racing Kart Debut, Daytona U.K. - Winner
2000 - Formula Maruthi Championship, Esteem and Singles-Seater Classes
10 Wins, 10 Pole Positions, 10 Fastest Laps (Esteem Class)
1 Win, 4 Podium Positions, 2 Fastest Laps (Single-Seater Class)
2001 - Formula Asia Championship, JK Tyres - Kingfisher Team
Champion - 8 Wins,10 Podium Postions, 6 Pole Positions, 8 Fastest Laps
2002 - British Formula 3 Championship Scholarship Class, T-Sport F3
2003 - British Formula 3 Championship Scholarship Class, T-Sport F3
Currently second in the 2003 standings.
Photographs: Jewella Miranda