COLUMN – Karun Chandhok: Flat out off track
The British Grand Prix weekend has always been one of my favourites. Ever since I raced here in the GP support race in Formula 3, it’s always been a weekend I’ve looked forward to — great crowd, great circuit, fantastic atmosphere and I get to stay in my own bed.
But being my adopted home race makes it a really busy weekend for me off track. The weekend really started on Wednesday itself this time. I promised the catering guys and also some of the guys in the team that I would bring them real home-cooked curry for lunch when they came to England and on Wednesday I did just that.
It was borderline spicy for a lot of people but everyone seemed to enjoy it – Sakon even asked me to write down the recipe for him. I spent Wednesday afternoon cycling around the circuit. Despite all the noise about the “new” circuit, to me it really wasn’t a big deal — three new corners really doesn’t make a “new circuit” but it was still nice to spend a couple hours pedalling around.
The wind was ridiculously strong which made pedalling around hard work and gave me an idea of just what it would be like in a super aero-sensitive machine such as a Formula 1 car.
Traditionally, on the Wednesday before the British Grand Prix, I always take my team out for a “thanks for the hard work” meal to my local Indian restaurant ‘The Khushboo’ where they get to try the “Karun’s special”. It was a great evening with lots of old stories from the guys about the drivers and teams they’ve worked with in the past.
Thursday started bright and early with a trip to our engine partners Cosworth. I’ve been to their facilities before but it’s still nice to go there and meet with all the guys working flat out in the background for us.
We had a good chance to show some of the media around the factory and even show them what an engine looks like on a dyno which is pretty cool. I was most amused by a double-decker bus parked outside and promptly jumped into the driver’s seat and started to have a look around his “cockpit” when the driver appeared out of nowhere looking a bit surprised.
Once he discovered I wasn’t trying to steal his bus, he gave me his business card in case I want to have a test in a private car park somewhere.
Thursday afternoon was more cycling around the circuit before the engineering meetings for the weekend ahead. Friday was an extra busy day for me as we had both Radio 5Live and ESPN-Star Sports from Asia following me around all day, tracking an entire day in a driver’s life.
Plus we have a new sponsor in the Jaypee Group, who are the people behind the Indian Grand Prix so we had some photo shoots with them. It was really quite tricky to manage time between all the press stuff and also get on with the job we have to do in the car but in the end, our team of press officers do a great job managing time. All the media seemed happy with the stories and footage they got so that worked out well.
On Saturday evening, we had the driver autograph session. Now, I’m a bit of a hooligan at these and have a great time. I always carry a bunch of caps to sign and throw into the crowd but I have to admit, even I got a bit out of hand with the excitement this weekend. I ended up standing on the table throwing caps out, getting bewildered looks from Jenson, Lewis, Rubens (who I smacked in the face with a cap) and the Force India guys.
The fans loved it though and I do think it’s something that all the drivers should do — for the cost of a few caps, you can make a lot of people smile.
The crowd on Sunday was brilliant. I was chatting with Jenson on the driver’s parade and we were amazed how all the way around the lap, the fans were just fantastic and it was really nice to see lots of Indian flags around as well. The Red Arrows display was spectacular as usual and is something that I never get bored of watching.
On track, it was a predictably tough weekend for us. With the lack of downforce, the high speed corners at Silverstone really were a challenge. I was quite pleased to have a good gap to Sakon all through free practice and thought we did a very good job with the car setup and the tyre choices on my side of the garage.
In qualifying, we had a bad run with the traffic which cost us about 4 tenths but in the race, the opening stint was very good for me as the pace compared to Virgin wasn’t too bad and I was pulling away at about a second a lap from Sakon.
Soon after the pitstop though, I ran over de la Rosa’s rear wing on the straight which broke my bargeboard and damaged the left side pod costing us about a second a lap in downforce. From there on, it just became a race of being safe and bringing the car home.
The Grand Prix party on stage was a real highlight for me. When Tony Jardine invited me, I actually asked him if there were any people there — that was a very stupid question. I had a great time on stage and judging by the number of comments on my Twitter page the crowd had a good time as well.
I took my race boots from the weekend and threw it into the crowd — not sure who caught them but they would’ve had to really fend off the mob. The weekend ended with a very chilled out evening at Vijay Mallya’s home watching the football WC final. Vijay and his family have been old family friends of ours for three generations now and it was a nice relaxed way to end a very flat out weekend.
(For previous Reuters columns by Karun Chandhok, click here)