Karun Chandhok has described his maiden Formula 1 test as like the realisation of a lifelong dream, after Red Bull Racing handed the Indian his big grand prix break when testing resumed in Barcelona.

The GP2 star - who triumphed for Durango at Spa earlier in the year to claim the biggest international victory of his career to-date - adapted well to his new mount, taking more than a second-and-a-half off his best time by the end of his two-day try-out around the Circuit de Catalunya. Indeed, he ended proceedings within seven tenths of RBR regular David Coulthard, despite seeing his early running limited after encountering a number of teething problems with the new electronics that will form part of the driver aid-free 2008 regulations..

"My first test in Formula 1 has been a very positive experience," Chandhok enthused. "I had an exciting time and I'm pleased the team was satisfied with the technical feedback I provided them. For me it has been a dream come true to be out on-track with the likes of Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard.

"A lot of people have asked me how it felt to drive on-track for the first time in a Formula 1 car and if I was nervous at all, but to be honest because of the great deal of work on our programme I was just really busy trying to get the systems to work how we wanted and I didn't really get a chance to sit back and look into what a big occasion this was for me.

"I just got on with the job in-hand. The first time I took the car down pit-lane to go out on-track was a special moment, but in all honesty I think my dad was more nervous than I was!

"[It] was more about reliability and working to get all the new complicated electronic systems up to working order and assist the team in their development. For the team, it also gave them a chance to evaluate my ability as a test-driver in terms of speed, consistency and feedback.

"To end up eleventh at the end is very satisfying, and I'm quite happy with that. Physically also I felt pretty good and only started to suffer with my neck a little bit towards the end of day two, which is quite normal for anyone in their first test. I have been in Italy for the last month training with my new trainer Giuseppe Sebastiani, and this has been invaluable I think."

The 23-year-old acknowledged the differences between the Formula 1 machine and his GP2 mount, but insisted it had not been too difficult to make the step-up, adding the fact that F1 was running without traction control for the first time in seven years had actually played to his advantage. He also spoke effusively about the welcome he had received within the team, particularly from Coulthard.

"You really don't have much chance to get settled into Formula 1 because of the limited track time," he explained. "In some ways it felt like another day in the office, like at a GP2 test but with a lot more people; in GP2 my entire team had 14 people, whereas this week we had 80 people here just for a test! It was very interesting for me to work with so many engineers on the engine, chassis, electronics, aerodynamics, tyres and brakes. I enjoyed working with Renault on the engine side too.

"The F1 car itself is actually a bit smaller than the GP2 car in size. Although the power is more and the brakes are better, to be honest they weren't anything I wasn't expecting and really not too much of a step from GP2. What was really different was the aerodynamics - the sheer amount of downforce, grip and speed that you can carry in a fast corner is something incredible.

"The style you need for an F1 car is slightly different to a GP2, but with the new rules about no traction control and the standard ECUs, the change is actually less than it would have been otherwise. I think my recent experience of racing a car without driver aids such as traction control during my past season in the GP2 championship was beneficial to the team.

"David was very open and approachable which was a great help; he offered his 13 years of experience if I had any problems. I told him it was a bit bizarre for me to think that I have a T-shirt in my room which he autographed for me at the Macau Grand Prix Formula 3 race when I was seven-years-old, and now we are running alongside each other!

"Overall I really enjoyed the two days, and I have to thank the team and Red Bull - who helped me all the way along - for this fantastic opportunity. It was a nice feeling to see my name up on the timing sheets with all the other guys. Hopefully it won't be long until I find myself a race seat of my own here in Formula 1."

RBR team principal Christian Horner was certainly impressed by the man from Madras, and while refusing to say whether it might lead anywhere, he did acknowledge that Chandhok had a bright future ahead of him.

"Following two days testing in the RB3 in Barcelona the team has been pleased with the job Karun has done," Horner remarked. "He acquitted himself well and contributed significantly to our winter development programme.

"Our regular test-driver was unavailable for this test session due to another commitment and Karun was an obvious choice to stand in for him, given the potential he has shown in GP2 this year. On top of that, he has been a member of the Red Bull family for a couple of years now, and we were very happy to provide him with this opportunity to make his Formula 1 test debut."

As to his immediate future, the inaugural Formula Asia V6 by Renault Champion - back in 2006 - is aiming to complete his GP2 apprenticeship after finishing 15th in his rookie campaign this year. Though he failed to get amongst the points over the opening six rounds as he got used to the category, from Hungary onwards he was the ninth highest-scoring driver in the series.

"At the moment I cannot really comment on what the next step is," Chandhok admitted, "although it is likely to be another season of racing in GP2. I want to land a drive with a top team and win as many races as possible, ideally combining that with some Formula 1 testing. [After that] I will just wait and see what the future holds."

 

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