After a thrilling end to the 2016 F1 season and the first one covered by Channel 4, Essaar GP caught up their technical analyst Karun Chandhok to talk about his thoughts on the 2016 season and his own racing career…
After a year of analysing F1 for Channel 4, did you have any clues that Nico Rosberg might ever call time on his F1 career?
No I don’t think anyone would have put money on that. It’s absolutely extraordinary! I do wonder if he will wake up one day in February and go “what have I done?” but he seems pretty comfortable with the decision. Very shocking indeed.
Who would you most like to see alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2017?
Well, Alonso or Vettel would be the ones everyone would love to see but out of the more realistic ones, I would like to see Carlos Sainz Jr get a chance. He drove very well this season yet I don’t see a place for him at Red Bull Racing as Daniel and Max are clearly in it for the long haul.
It does look like Valtteri Bottas is going to end up there however.
As a driver turned television technical analyst do you ever find yourself viewing races differently and learning things that you can transfer into your own racing?
I always found race strategy very interesting and I think as a driver having to watch and follow that closely is always useful. People don’t realise that Channel 4 is the fifth major F1 broadcaster I’ve worked with (after stints with Star Sports, BBC 5 Live, Sky UK, BeIN Sports ) – my first race of live commentary was the Chinese Grand Prix in 2004 so it’s been a while!
Having competed in the inaugural Formula E season, are you surprised by the championship’s initial success?
I think Alejandro Agag (Formula E CEO) is a very smart man and he has done very well to establish the championship in a short space of time. The cities on the calendar are good names and the manufacturers involved are a really impressive list. I’m not yet sure as to the financial model of the series as the events are expensive to host and that really is the next challenge – can they make it a profit making series?
You competed at the Goodwood Revival in 2016, why do think Historic racing is currently booming? Do you think modern motorsport is becoming less appealing?
I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. Historic Racing is great fun and has an appeal to people like me who are big fans of the history of the sport but it’s never going to have the mass appeal of modern motorsport. I think it’s fantastic that the car owners allow us to drive their cars in races or demos flat out but they love showing off these great cars.
Modern F1 has become less appealing because it’s become somewhat predictable in terms of just one team dominating the season. All this stuff about making the cars look more aggressive or a little bit faster are really going to be irrelevant if they don’t mix up the order. The fans in the grandstand or on TV really won’t be able to make out if a car is going a couple of seconds faster per lap – you won’t believe how many people at races told me this year that they thought the GP2 cars were faster because they were louder!
Rio Haryanto lost his seat at Manor this year, how important is it to have a driver from an Asian country in F1?
I think it’s really important. Economically countries like China, India and Indonesia are all key players in the world and for manufacturers and sponsors they are all valuable markets. A driver from one of these countries can be a great vehicle to promote the brand in these markets.
Moreover, for F1 to be gaining a more global appeal, the audiences in these other countries need a local face that they recognise to support and follow. Look at what having a local driver did to F1’s following in Germany with Michael Schumacher or Spain with Fernando.
How difficult was the car at HRT in 2010? Did it have potential if the finances were available?
It was actually a reasonably balanced car but the problem was that it lacked downforce. There was a lot of stuff that was going on behind the scenes with Dallara and the team which ended up in that relationship breaking down. This was a shame as Dallara showed me the various upgrade packages they had lined up – indeed the car we ended up racing all season was only meant to be a launch spec version of the car with nearly 60 points of downforce sitting on the table that never made it to the car. This would have propelled us a couple of seconds faster and on the back of people like Toro Rosso.
New regulations including more downforce for F1 in 2017. Which teams and/or driver do you think could capitalise the most?
Who knows! Red Bull obviously fancy their chances as their aero department is very strong but Mercedes have shown recently that don’t really have a weakness so I suspect they will still be the favourites. Their power unit especially in qualifying mode was still the benchmark and with open development allowed, this could once again prove to be the difference between them and the likes of RBR and Ferrari.
You have raced at Le Mans and the ELMS recently, what are you driving plans for 2017?
I’d love to go back to Le Mans and also do more sportscar stuff around the world. I haven’t really had a chance to do much in America and would be really interested to experience the sportscar world there but nothing is set in stone yet.
Channel 4 had their first year of broadcasting F1 in 2016. The chemistry between the presenters is working well, what can the viewers expect from the team in 2017?
More of the same but better I suppose as we now have a year’s experience under our belts!
You can catch Karun on Channel 4 during their coverage of the 2017 Formula One season.
Chris Brown (@cbrownmsport)