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Chandhok faces tough F1 debut in Bahrain

Last updated on: March 10, 2010 08:29 IST

'The first weekend's going to be very tough'

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Karun Chandhok has no illusions about what awaits him this weekend when India's sole Formula One driver makes his debut barely a week after sealing the deal.

His new Spanish-based HRT team, formerly Campos Meta, have not even conducted a shakedown test of the Cosworth-powered car after narrowly winning a race just to get it ready for the Bahrain season-opener.

"The first weekend's going to be very tough I think," Chandhok said before flying to Manama for the first race of the season on Sunday.

"Really, if we can finish the race that will be a serious achievement.

"For me personally, it's going to be more an extended test session really, to just gain as much experience as possible for the team," added the Chennai-born 26-year-old, a race winner in the GP2 support series in 2008.

"I think Melbourne (the second race in Australia) might be a case of a bit more of the same and then hopefully once we get to Malaysia then we can start to make progress in terms of performance."

There is also an update planned for the first European race in Spain in May.


Image: Karun Chandhok

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'I've never ever wanted to do anything else'

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Chandhok, whose father Vicky is a senior figure in Indian motorsport, will join Brazilian Bruno Senna at the team run by ex-Jordan, Midland, Spyker and Force India boss Colin Kolles.

The two drivers were friends and team mates in GP2 when Senna, nephew of the late triple champion Ayrton, finished overall runner-up.

Chandhok, the first Indian F1 driver since Narain Karthikeyan in 2005, expected his debut to be very special.

"I've never ever wanted to do anything else, ever since I was a kid and three or four years old," he said.

"I was there as a huge Alain Prost fan in the late 80s and early 90s, and then I was there with my Michael Schumacher hat and T-shirt in the 90s hoping Damon Hill would spin off.

"It's going to be a bit strange to be on the grid with Michael now but I don't think it's fully sunk in yet," he added of the seven times world champion, returning with Mercedes at the age of 41.


Image: Karun Chandhok with team mate Bruno Senna

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Managing expectations might be harder

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Managing expectations at home might be harder.

"It's going to be tough because, while there is a fan following, its not yet a knowledgeable fan following," he said. "We've done the best we can to try and manage expectations with the people out there.

"A lot of people don't understand the sport, even within my own family, and what the enormity of the task is when you have to start with a brand new team and no testing," he added.

"They hear the words but it doesn't actually sink in how difficult it is going to be."


Image: Karun Chandhok

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Performance is an unknown for HRT

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Chandhok said HRT had a "decent" package of spares for Bahrain but performance is an unknown. Other new teams Lotus and Virgin were more than five seconds off the pace in pre-season tests.

"Bruno and I were sat there at dinner the other night discussing exactly the same thing," he said when asked how far adrift he expected the Dallara-built HRT car to be.

"Until Friday night we're not going to know where we really stand. Right now, it's all just guessing. Until we get to Friday and actually run the car, it can all mean anything."


Image: Karun Chandhok

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'I've spent the winter preparing as much as I can'

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Chandhok had talked to the now-absent USF1 team, even visiting their North Carolina headquarters, Virgin and Lotus but had to wait until Kolles led a late rescue of the failing Campos outfit.

With a one-year contract (plus options on both sides) announced only last Thursday, Chandhok has plenty of work to do.

"I have been optimistic that something would happen in Formula One since probably August or September last year so I've spent the winter preparing as much as I can," he said.

"In terms of fitness level, I feel quite comfortable but I am sure the first few races are going to be very hard, especially for the neck.

"I expect to have a few issues but I think that's normal for any driver who's been dropped into the sort of situation that we are in."


Image: Karun Chandhok

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