With a huge amount of politics to contend with, a heavy physical training schedule and a bulging PR programme to follow, it’s unsurprising Karun Chandhok sighs “F1 is tiring.”
“There’s a lot of politics involved in the sport," says the Team Lotus F1 reserve driver. "There are a lot of people you have to be nice to that you really don’t want to. You get on with some drivers and you don’t with others.
I know in the UK a lot of people don’t believe it but Fernando [Alonso] is genuinely a nice bloke (You heard it here first!). He’ll always stop and have a chat with anyone. It is rare to see drivers socialising away from the track though,” admits the 27 year-old.
The work load of the modern F1 driver, thanks to the teams’ PR machines, is truly immense too. In pre-season testing Chandhok made eight flights in eight days, including flying from England to India for a meeting at lunch time, then back again the same evening. “Don’t get me wrong though, I am so lucky to do the job I do,” he says.
“I was the best man at my friend’s wedding but I missed it because I had to fly off to a race. It’s not just what you see on TV,” says the Brackley-based Chandhok. “We live in a fake world, we live in a bubble. It’s just not a normal lifestyle.
“I’m one of the first drivers at the circuit and one of the last to leave,” he says, adding that on top of working through all the settings for the car and a full debrief at the end of the day, he then heads to the gym to put in the training needed to physically wrestle an F1 car round a track, coping with the massive gforces.
Chandhok’s work is as relentless in the cockpit as it is out: “It’s a nightmare. The workload in the cockpit is just colossal, too. You have the diff settings, the engine map and engine braking; you have enough going on never mind KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and DRS (Drag Reduction System).
The Indian driver is a big fan of the new moveable rear wing though: “I like the DRS, I think it works quite well. Overtaking shouldn’t be too easy otherwise it becomes fake F1. You’re able to pass using the DRS, but it’s still marginal on the limit and not easy to pull off.” Even with a 15% drag reduction thanks to DRS, you still need to be the real deal to make it in F1 it seems.
The re-introduced KERS system doesn’t seem to thrill the F1 ace as much however: “With KERS, I’m not so convinced personally because you’ve all got the same benefit. You come out of a corner and press the button and you’ve both got the same power, so it’s not actually helping overtaking. At least with DRS one’s got it and one doesn’t so you’re doing something that should affect racing.”
The new regulations have gone some way to injecting a much needed shot of action to the sport too. DRS has seen plenty of overtaking moves across the field this year and the new softer Pirelli tyre has brought tyre management and pitstops right back to the fore of F1.
“With the new tyre, wear during the races is really the main issue. Last year, on the option tyre you could pretty much do the whole race, but I think what we’ve seen of the new tyres so far will be the default for this season,” reckons Chandhok.
“It’s going to be different circuit to circuit obviously, but in general you are going to see more pitstops and more overtaking which I think is great.”
And the proposed ‘sprinkler system’ to further liven up F1? “It won’t happen,” says Chandhok. “Bernie [Ecclestone] has a very good sense of humour – he loves a laugh and to throw his toys around. He knows people hang on every word he says. He’s just baiting people really.”
So finally, what’s Chandhok’s take on the squawking tones of Eddie Jordan that echo around the F1 paddock? “I like Eddie, he’s very entertaining,” he says. “He’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I really get on with him.”