Karun Chandhok paid tribute to his Hispania Racing (HRT) team after making it out in qualifying for the F1 2010 curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir following a 'chaotic' build-up that had left him to venture out blind – and in the circumstances, to get to within two seconds of team-mate Bruno Senna was a truly formidable achievement.
Between them, Chandhok and Senna constitute by some margin the least experienced driver pairing in the top flight this season, and allied to a team whose car had not so much as even turned a wheel prior to this weekend, that was regarded by some paddock cynics as a recipe for disaster. To their immense credit, the duo performed admirably and faultlessly under pressure.
The only one of the two to get out during practice – completing 26 laps of the Bahrain International Circuit on Friday and Saturday morning – former GP2 Series runner-up Senna did well to lap less than 2.7seconds away from the next-slowest runner, fellow newcomer Lucas Di Grassi in the second Virgin Racing entry. Given the respective mileages that have been put on the two cars to-date, such a showing for the Brazilian was nothing to be sniffed at by any means.
“It was certainly a relief to continue to add laps to this car when others have already completed thousands of miles in testing,” confirmed the nephew of three-time F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna. “We only have 26 laps on-board. We have already learned a lot and will continue to do so with every lap we complete. I want to congratulate again my mechanics, engineers and the whole team for their incredible hard work to ensure we are in a position to be racing tomorrow.”
Chandhok, meanwhile – a man who similarly partnered Senna in GP2, where the pair struck up a close friendship and strong working relationship together – believed he would not even be getting out onto the circuit at all after reliability woes scuppered his hopes throughout Friday practice and a subsequent hydraulic failure in FP3 on Saturday morning.
Having not even driven his car out of the garage, when the popular 26-year-old – only the second Indian ever to reach the highest level, following in the footsteps of Narain Karthikeyan five years ago – did take to the track, he had to learn both the new layout and his new car all at once. A massively daunting task, it only served to make his effort in winding up a mere 1.664 seconds behind Senna all-the-more praiseworthy.
“What can I say, a bit chaotic really!” Chandhok is quoted as having said by Reuters
. “At the last minute we threw everything together and got out. The session had already started when the floor was being bolted on. It was just a shakedown...it was literally just to do some laps and make sure we were okay for the race tomorrow; we went up and down all the gears and made sure everything worked and my seat was okay. The seat belts and everything had to be re-adjusted. It was just a bit of a relief to drive and actually see what the new bit of the circuit is like!
“I can't remember anyone in the history of F1 who has gone straight into qualifying on their debut, without even having done a shakedown of the car and in an unknown team or otherwise. I didn't want to get in anyone's way and in fact I picked up a lot of dirt on the tyres just by getting out of people's way. We're not here to upset anyone, just here to be respectable and do the best job we can.”
“I still can't believe that we will be on the grid tomorrow,” he added. “It was not looking good in the morning, and I was not sure if we would make it to the qualifying session as well. I didn't expect to be driving the car for the first time in qualifying, but as I have always said these are the circumstances and we made the best of it. To finish just a second slower than Bruno is definitely a huge achievement, and once again I think the team has done a brilliant job so am very grateful to them.”
“Our mechanics and engineers worked miracles and were awake for 38 hours preparing for our first outing,” concluded HRT team principal Colin Kolles, arguably the man with the toughest and least enviable task in the pit-lane right now. “Having never run the car before this weekend, we have had the usual new car technical challenges which we would normally have solved during pre-season testing – but we are determined to work through this usual process as quickly as possible, even though it may well be in the public eye.
“In a way, we are treating this race as a test session, and this is a great success for the entire team to even be here with both cars running. On Monday we will go home with lots of important data and valuable information, which we will be using for big steps forward as the season moves on and hope to make consistent improvements. The focus today for the team was to run both cars on-track. We are focussed on safety, reliability and then performance will come. I would like to thank everyone for their dedication – we have taken an historic first step.”