Karun Chandhok has urged that he and Hispania Racing (HRT) team-mate Bruno Senna are 'really close to maximising' the equipment that they have at their disposal during their rookie campaign on the grand prix grid in F1 2010 – and he contends that whilst the team may not be able to compete with fellow newcomer Virgin on outright pace, it has been able to outmanoeuvre its nearest rival in terms of strategy.
Given the circumstances – the fact that he completed his first-ever laps in HRT's challenger during qualifying for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in mid-March pretty much set the tone for what has been an at times extremely trying first half to the season for the young Indian – Chandhok has impressed many over the past four months with his mature attitude and stoic determination in the face of adversity.
Whilst points look to be little more than a pipe dream for the financially-struggling Spanish outfit this year in the light of just how far from the leading pace its car invariably is, with little to choose between them on most grand prix weekends, it seems palpable that – in evidence of the former's conviction – Chandhok and Senna are extracting the maximum out of its potential, equally invariably for precious little reward. Character-building would seem an apt way to sum things up thus far.
“It's been tough,” reflected the man from Chennai, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio
, “but I've learned a lot about F1 and I think I've gone quite well. I've got a very good team-mate as a benchmark and I've been very competitive against him, so for me personally my credibility has gone up in F1. I'm quite positive with the way the season has gone so far. Of course, we always love for the car to be quicker and for us to be able to race further up the grid, but at the moment that's not possible so we're doing the best job with what we've got.
“We're lacking downforce and we need more aero; in order to get the car into a position where we can compete with Lotus and Virgin we need downforce, and at the moment we haven't got it. We're pushing like hell to maximise what we've got and there's not ever really more than a couple of tenths between us (him and Senna) – and that says that we're really close to maximising what we have. What we achieve is down to the team, and how much improvement they can make to the car – we'll just drive what we're given.
“On pure pace, we're still half-a-second-to-six-tenths behind Virgin. The only reason we have been racing them is that I think we out-manoeuvre them on strategy and by looking after the tyres, like in Canada where we decided that we were going to play the hare and tortoise game and let them go off and do an extra pit-stop. We went round slowly and did one less pit-stop and tried to beat them that way, and that's what we did – I was ahead of Timo [Glock] and [Lucas] Di Grassi even before Timo stopped. We have to do things like that in order to compensate and to be able to be in a position to race with them.”
It seems likely, unfortunately, that Virgin and HRT will again be propping up the rear of the pecking order in this weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a race that Chandhok quips is – at least until the advent of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix next year – his 'home' outing in F1, given that he lives literally just down the road.
The 26-year-old will surely benefit from a wealth of 'local' support, however, and should he return in a more competitive car in 2011 – be it either with Hispania still or perhaps, as has been mooted in some quarters, Force India – he could receive an even bigger cheer from the grandstands.
“I always look forward to Silverstone,” he enthused. “I always have lots of great local support, and I think I'm the most local driver. You might have two world champions from the UK, but neither of them live here and I live five minutes from the circuit! It's always nice to race at Silverstone, in front of a great crowd and a very knowledgeable public and on a great circuit. It's just a fantastic weekend, and I'm really looking forward to it.
“[For 2011], we have to wait and see what the options are. HRT have some good plans for 2011, and they're looking at various possibilities to improve. If that happens, it won't be a bad place to be, for sure. The first option is definitely to speak to them and see where we are. We'll see what happens – it's early days still.”