Karun Chandhok has revealed that he is 'thrilled' to have been handed his big break in F1 by 2010 newcomer Hispania Racing (HRT), describing the opportunity as 'surreal' and 'unbelievable' and admitting that only a matter of months ago, graduation to the top flight had appeared to be 'a distant dream'.
Chandhok was confirmed today (Thursday) alongside erstwhile iSport International GP2 Series team-mate Bruno Senna at the former Campos Meta 1 operation for its maiden campaign at the highest level [see separate story – click here
], as the Spanish outfit continues its dramatic race against time to make the starting grid for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in ten days' time – and barely a fortnight on from its future being secured by the José Ramón Carabante-led takeover.
Albeit under absolutely no illusions as to just how tough his F1 debut is likely to be, with a strong pedigree in the feeder category under his belt – including race victories at two of the sport's most historic and revered circuits Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone, grand prix venues both, and a podium in Monaco – as well as an impressive test outing for Red Bull Racing at Barcelona in late 2007, the 26-year-old Indian is confident that he is up to the task, and palpably excited at the prospect of becoming only the second of his countrymen ever to compete at the highest level, following in the wheel tracks of groundbreaking compatriot Narain Karthikeyan five years earlier.
“This is just an unbelievable feeling!” Chandhok smiled. “I am absolutely thrilled to be able to fulfill a lifelong dream to break into Formula 1. We've been working for so many years for this opportunity and now that we've finally made it, it feels a bit surreal to be honest. Only when I get to Bahrain, I think, will it fully sink in that I am going to be on the same grid as world champions like [Michael] Schumacher and [Fernando] Alonso.
“My family and I have had a very stressful time this winter, and we would especially like to thank Mr. Sunder Mulchandani, Dr. Colin Kolles and Mr. Bernie Ecclestone, without whom all this would have been a distant dream. My dad especially has been working really hard since August last year to make this happen. With an Indian Grand Prix scheduled for 2011, F1 is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports in India – and this is a proud moment not only for me but for my country as well.
“I have been training really hard over the winter to be as fit as possible. I've been doing a lot in Chennai, cycling or running at 11am at the peak of the heat. The F1 cars are particularly demanding on the neck because of the higher speeds and G-forces, and I have been doing special exercises concentrating on building up my neck muscles. The first couple of races will be hard I'm sure, but I'm pushing in the gym as much as I can.
“While it is true that we will be at a disadvantage to the other teams with regard to testing time, I have a lot of faith in Dallara who are building the car. I have always enjoyed a good relationship with Mr. Dallara. I remember going to visit him in 2008 before the Monza GP2 race when he said that he believed I could be in F1 soon, and it's wonderful that we have got here together.
“Colin Kolles is a workaholic who has done a fantastic job to ensure that we will be on the grid at Bahrain and is excited about the challenge that lies ahead. The first few races will be tough without any testing, but at least I have been to Bahrain before so I know the circuit. I have met a lot of the engineers and senior people who all seem very motivated, and I'm looking forward to working with them at the circuit next week.”
That enthusiasm is shared by Kolles himself, who was parachuted in by Carabante with a daunting brief – to rescue the Murcia-based concern from the financially-stricken mire into which it had descended, get preparations for F1 2010 back on-track and turn the situation around.
Given the eleventh-hour nature of Hispania Racing's salvation and previous well-documented delays in the construction if the chassis due to funding issues, HRT will be the only competitor on the grid in the desert kingdom to have not had the opportunity to turn a wheel beforehand, transforming the race weekend something of a glorified test session – but Kolles is convinced that in the inaugural Formula V6 Asia Renault Champion and youngest-ever Asian Formula Champion, he has the right man to help drive the team forward.
“We are proud to have Karun as part of our team line-up ahead of our grand prix debut in Bahrain,” stated the former Jordan, Midland, Spyker and Force India team chief, who also has a strong record outside of F1 in the F3 Euroseries, DTM and Le Mans 24 hours. “I am delighted that we can count on such a promising young talent as Karun Chandhok. As a front-runner in the GP2 Series, I am confident Karun will step up to the F1 challenge and contribute to a successful debut season for both him and the team.”