Published On: Sat, Jan 13th, 2018
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Autoweek Q&A: Karun Chandhok says Formula E may never become the new F1

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With a career spanning both Formula 1 and Formula E, Karun Chandhok is one of the most recognizable race car drivers in the world.

So naturally, when Autoweek spotted him at the Autosport International Exhibition in Birmingham, England, it provided an excellent opportunity to reach out an interview him about the current direction of both championships.

The complete Q&A can be read in its entirety below:

Autoweek: Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag has made a pretty big statement by saying that Formula E could be the only viable motor racing championship by 2040. Is this something that you could realistically see coming to pass?

Karun Chandhok: “I think these are big philosophical questions that can really only be answered in the goodness of time really. It’s impossible to say (whether Formula E will be the only remaining motorsport championship in 2040). Some people say that everyone will be driving electric cars by 2025, other people say 2050, some other people believe that it will never happen so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert or qualified enough to put a number on it and put a definitive date on it.

“What I will say is that I think Formula E and Alejandro Agag – he’s a good friend of mine and he’s done an excellent job of establishing the sport as a separate vertical. What I mean by that is you’ve got the Formula One vertical with the single seater ladder below it, you’ve got the endurance racing vertical of sports car racing, the American stuff with IndyCar, Indy Lights, NASCAR and now Formula E has opened up another vertical in the world of racing.

“I don’t think that it’s right to compare Formula E with Formula 1 or sports car racing — they’ve all got plusses and minuses. I’m a traditionalist and always believe that Formula 1 should be the pinnacle of the sport so I think, I want to see the fastest cars on the planet and the best drivers on the planet in Formula 1.”

AW: Given what you’ve said about Formula E being its own pillar, should Formula 1 be worried about the progress being made by its electric counterpart?

KC: “I don’t think the word ‘worried’ is the point. I think Formula 1, and let’s keep perspective here: If you look at the global TV audiences for Formula 1 or you look at, everyone talks about digital media and social media but Formula 1 only embraced it properly in the last 12 months. You look at their numbers and it’s just astronomical compared to Formula E so let’s keep perspective.

“Formula 1 is still, as far as global motorsport is concerned, it is still unquestionably the market leader and as long as you’ve still got the best cars and fastest cars and top talents in the sport, I think that Formula 1 could and should keep its place at the top of the ladder.

“There are lessons that perhaps should be learnt from Formula E. In terms of, if all of the manufacturers are going down that path of electric mobility and they believe that Formula E is where their future is, perhaps Formula One need to decide whether they are going to be more about entertainment and have loud cars that are fast and maybe have big V12s again that scream at 18,000rpm.”

AW: Formula 1 may be still be the pinnacle of motor sport but does the championship need to rediscover its identity?

“Formula 1 is at a bit of a cross roads and I think that is what Ross Brawn and his team of technical people that he’s got as advisors – he’s got people like Pat Symonds and Dominic Harlow and he’s got a lot of people with a lot of F1 experience and advising him and working with him on the future of what the sport should be – and I think they are at a crossroads.

“Are they going to establish themselves as entertainment? In which case, you go down a different set of technical regulations but still have the fastest best cars, best drivers, or are they going to be led by manufacturers deciding that they want more electrification in terms of the power train – in which case you go Formula E.

“Whatever they decide from 2021 onwards, is a very, very important next step for the next decade.”

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AW: There is a huge focus on safety in Formula 1, especially with the introduction of the HALO. Is there a danger that the sport is becoming too safe, that it has been sanitized too much?

KC: “I’m not a fan of the HALO. Yes, you’ve got the argument that if you save one life then it is worth it sure but it changes the fundamental aesthetics of the car and not for the better. I don’t think that anyone on the planet will ever say that it is the prettiest thing in the world.

“It’s a first step. I think that they all have been very vocal about the fact that it is only a first step and there are other steps coming, that’s fine, but as a racing driver I never ever once questioned getting into a car that didn’t have a windscreen or a HALO style protection because I was worried.

“Nobody is forcing these drivers to get into the car without a HALO, nobody is insisting on these drivers driving without a HALO and I think, if you made it optional, every driver would not have it because you would save nine kilos and you would have better aero.

“Yes, motor racing is dangerous and the job of the FIA is always to try to improve safety but at some point you need to also understand that things like aesthetics matter in the sport and there’s no fan on the planet who will rock up in Melbourne (for the season opening Australian Grand Prix) and say the cars look better this year than they did last year.

“But, in terms of if you step back and look at things on a bigger level, is motorsport getting too safe? My biggest bugbear, more than things like the HALO, is the circuits. I’m not a fan of these big tarmac runoffs that we’ve got everywhere. I’m not a fan of this asphalt that’s been put down everywhere and then we get ourselves into situations where stewards are having to judge whether moves were done legally or not and whether somebody crossed the white line or not.”

AW: So you’d rather see a return to tracks like Brands Hatch…

KC: “With grass and gravel. I’m a big fan of grass and gravel and natural real grass, real gravel. If you go off or you get stuck in the gravel, that’s your own stupidity. That’s your own fault.

“Even Le Mans (is changing). Every year we go back and there’s more and more and more tarmac being put down in the runoff areas and on the edges of the circuit. The first time that I went to Spa and I went through Pouhon. All you had was a white line and an enormous gravel trap and you had to be dancing around the corner. You came out of there and you go, ‘phew I’ve got away with it.’”

AW: Has it taken away some of the thrill for you?

“Yeah it has. I think that as a drive it does take the thrill away. Now you come out of a corner going, ‘phew, I got away without a penalty’ and that’s wrong. Driving should not be about trying to avoid a penalty, driving should be about driving to the limit of your cars grip and the circuit so I think the driving pleasure is gone.

“Spa is ruined in many ways for me. Some of the driving pleasure has been taken away from these circuits.”


By Sam Hall

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Autoweek Q&A: Karun Chandhok says Formula E may never become the new F1