I remember reading a Nigel Roebuck column many, many moons ago that mentioned in passing that many racing drivers aren’t too clued up on their own sport. To my fast-developing sense of motorsport geekery this was akin to being a Milli Vanilli fan then finding out about their dastardly miming or being an Evertonian when Rooney put on a red shirt – I was disillusioned to say the least. These superstar drivers didn’t deserve to have my dream job! I’m sure the astronauts currently orbiting the Earth in Atlantis know exactly who Neil Armstrong is.
Every driver who drives a Formula One car is well aware of what a great opportunity they have from a career perspective, but do they know why Grand Prix racing is so magical? Do they know the legends that have shaped the sport they play? One driver who emphatically does is Karun Chandhok. He’s fast becoming my unsung hero for his encyclopedic knowledge of Ecclestone-era Formula One and his appreciation of turbo-charged Indycars. On the track Karun is not shabby either, his GP2 win at Spa was a great effort and taking a totally untested HRT out into qualifying at Bahrain last year was a minor piece of heroics. On top of that he is a pleasure to listen to on BBC 5live’s excellent commentary team, another dream job for a motor-mad man such as he, though one he must be wishing he wasn’t doing right now.
Dario Franchitti is also pleasingly aware of his place in history, the photo of him looking at Jim Clark’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Tales of Valentino Rossi watching Norick Abe on video every day before school tells you a lot about how the great man feels about his sport, that is the sort of obsession usually reserved for the anoraks. I also loved this video of Lewis and Jenson exploring Mclaren’s vaults of obsolete yet iconic racing cars, I just can’t picture Kimi and Juan Pablo ever going in there and knowing their MP4/1 from their MP4/4. They probably didn’t know what MP4 even signifies.
As ever, I digress. Senna may be the racer’s racer, but Chandhok is the geek’s racer for sure – and he got himself another page in my good books this week by putting VJ Mallya in his place. It’s well worth a click, fellow Indian star Narain Karthikeyan also has a message for Mallya. The big businessman and former amateur racer (who was a rival of Karun’s Dad once upon a time) has given the former Jordan team an Indian makeover to create the Force India squad, but Mallya’s lack of faith in racing drivers from his part of the world is a little bit disheartening. Both Chandhok and his recently side-lined countryman Karthikeyan, another fellow with a keen interest in racing’s past, have not even been invited to test with the nominally Indian team.
Karun Chandhok delivered the man with the posh yacht an eloquent and accurate dressing down saying, “I think it’s a bit sad that in one breath the chairman of our Indian ASN is talking about how much he has done for Indian drivers and then in the next breath he is criticising India’s only two Formula One drivers.”
Mallya has been accused in his brief time in Formula One of not paying bills and using Force India as a giant ego-trip. This is from respected journos and insiders, as I’ve never been invited to party on his big boat I will defer to their knowledge. I doubt very much that he’s the biggest scoundrel this sport has ever seen, nor is he the best representation of it either. Unlike the two Indian drivers who are currently within touching distance of a proper F1 chance, Mallya clearly isn’t aware of the footsteps he is treading in. He is a speed, money and glamour man, while the drivers he belittles appreciate the artistry of racing.
So here’s to Karun Chandhok for telling Mallya that he’s wrong and generally being a great ambassador for his sport and his country. He knows a lot about the past of his beloved racing, it is so apt that he is amongst the few Indian drivers to be carving out their own pages of history.