The Indian racing driver, Karun Chandhok, talks about how his career graph travailed in the motorsport industry, lessons he learnt from his international teammates and his passion for being a sports commentator and analyst
For Karun Chandhok being a sportsman was a matter of preserving the lineage and vigorously pursuing a passion. Even before India prepared for its first Formula One Grand Prix in 2011, Chandhok had already won the title of the youngest Asian Formula champion, competed for Hispania racing in Formula One and won two races in the GP2 series. Not limiting his passion to just achievements, he also established himself as a well-renown public speaker at a number of forums, colleges and corporate events across the world. In this interview with The SmartCEO, he shares with us the experience of being a sportsman outside the cricket fanaticism in India and his key to a successful career.
What is the best thing about being a sportsman that no other career can compare to?
The incomparable feeling of competing and delivering a result under pressure. Even in team sports, like in racing or cricket, your individual performance comes under so much scrutiny that it adds a lot of pressure but also creates equal satisfaction if the result is fantastic. I think everyone from a lawyer to a stock broker deals with competition and pressure, but not within the limited time frame that we do.
What is your frame of mind, when you are sitting behind the wheels and the race is about to start?
I remain as calm as possible. Controlled aggression, I suppose, is the best way to describe it.
Your experiences when collaborating with well-established sportsmen like Narain Karthikeyan and Bruno Senna? More specifically, your views on teamwork.
Team work is very important in this business. The dynamics between two team-mates is very unique because on the one hand they’re the first person that you want to beat but on the other hand you know that if you work together, you can deliver better results for everyone in the team. Sportsmen in general and racing drivers in particular are quite insecure people, so they need to be mature when it comes to handling team dynamics. Though I’ve had a few bumps along the way, my rapport with team-mates has been reasonably good until now.
How did you decide on ‘what’s next?’ as you progressed in your career? A few learnings’ or ‘must know’ lessons that you can share here?
I always apply logic and rational thinking. The few occasions where I’ve let emotions take over my practicality haven’t served me well. My motto will always be “Assumption is the mother of all mistakes” and I apply that almost every day.
The biggest roadblock in your career and how did you overcome it?
Finance and sponsorship have been the biggest roadblocks since the beginning. Sometimes, it has been a complete nightmare and on a few rare occasions, an absolute pleasure. My parents were very supportive and risked everything to help me along the way but I spent an equal amount of time writing out pages and pages of presentations to sponsors. It’s a very tough and expensive sport and one that demands a lot outside the car.
How do you deal with achievements and recognition?
Some are better than others and I think I’ve always recognised which are the ones that are important to me. I’m the first to tell people that “I won a fake award tonight” when I feel that it’s something I haven’t earned.
What is your one source of motivation?
The feeling of standing on a podium with the Indian National Anthem playing just cannot be replicated.
People you are most inspired by, and why?
Alain Prost is my racing idol. He was an absolute perfectionist but also a minimalist in terms of the way he drove the race car. I also admire people like Frank Williams and Bernie Ecclestone for their brilliant work ethic, Mario Andretti for being the best all-rounder in motorsport history, Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer for having tremendous commitment to their sport for such a long period of time and Michael Doohan for coming back to win five Motorcycle World Championships after nearly having his legs amputated in 1992.
Getting accustomed to a racing environment requires tremendous practice and adaptability. Your insights on this?
It’s like anything else in life. Practice makes a man perfect. But I believe that it is also about the quality of practice rather than quantity. Knowledge is like gold dust in this business. It’s critical to know everything about your car, your team, the circuit, your competitors, the organisers, the media and the sponsors.