Karun Chandhok recalls Michael Schumacher memory from his chaotic F1 debut

Michael Schumacher in street clothes. Italy, September 2011. Credit: Alamy
Michael Schumacher in street clothes. Italy, September 2011. Credit: Alamy

Karun Chandhok had perhaps one of the wildest debuts and build-ups to that in Formula 1, plus a memory with Michael Schumacher to cherish.

Chandhok held talks with Toyota, USF1, Lotus and Virgin before a deal to join the prospective new Campos team for 2010 was on the table, only for Adrián Campos to sell the team to José Ramón Carabante before it even made its debut.

In February, ahead of that season, Hispania team principal Colin Kolles got in touch with Chandhok to rescue the deal, the team going into the season without completing any pre-season testing.

A heavily upgraded F110 was set to arrive at that year’s Spanish GP, though a dispute with chassis builder Dallara meant their relationship broke down and this underdeveloped F110 was here to see out the season.

The team never scored a point in Formula 1, making its final appearance in 2012.

Chandhok was asked during the Beyond the Grid podcast how he felt physically and mentally ahead of his 2010 debut in Bahrain, considering how eventful the build-up was.

“Well, physically, I felt ready because I knew this was the one real opportunity with these new teams coming in,” he said, Hispania, Lotus and Virgin being the ones who made it onto the 2010 grid. “So I made sure I was physically prepared for it.

“Mentally, of course, it was all a bit daunting, because there’s so much going on. There’s so much noise going on around all of these conversations with these five teams.

“It was a little bit tricky, but actually when I went to Dallara to do the seat fit, that was the first time it felt real.

“I spent time with Geoff [Willis, Hispania technical director] and Mr. Dallara, Gian Paolo Dallara, I’ve got a great relationship with him, and you know, actually spend time with the designers and having a look at the wind tunnel and things like that.

“And they said to me, ‘look, the car we’ve got here really should have just done the launch at the hotel, but now we’re kind of stuck with it, we don’t have time to go testing’.

“We’d end up doing the first four flyaways, but the update package they had for Barcelona was like 60 points of downforce, you know, it would have taken that car to the head of the new teams, probably not far off a Toro Rosso which, funnily enough, if you look at where Haas and Dallara arrived in F1, that’s sort of where they ended up, actually.

“So it’s such a shame that the Hispania team, Collin, and [José Ramón] Carabante sort of fell out with Dallara, and that update never arrived. So that launch car, which was meant to go to a hotel, basically ended up racing in that spec for the season.”

Still, it was a debut race weekend to remember simply for the fact that before the on-track action began, a certain guy named Michael Schumacher came over to welcome him to Formula 1.

It is a memory which Chandhok still cherishes to this day, and told Michael’s son Mick Schumacher about after he raced in the series with Haas in 2021 and 2022.

“In some ways, as much of a mess as it was, in other ways, it kind of took the pressure off, because we just needed to get out there and do some laps,” Chandhok continued.

“And when you’re doing your first Grand Prix weekend, there’s so much other stuff and noise outside of the car going on. This just got swept up with a whirlwind.

“But on that first weekend, my standout memories, actually from the Thursday, where I walked in the paddock, and it’s my first time walking into the paddock at a Grand Prix weekend as a race driver, and the first driver I spoke with was Michael Schumacher.

“This was Michael making his return to F1, he was the biggest star at that time, you’d have to say he’s bigger than Lewis [Hamilton], Fernando [Alonso], all these guys at that time. And I was a nobody, right?

“But he actually walked up to me and introduced himself to me, as if he had to, and said ‘welcome to F1’. And we had a conversation, where are you from? And asked a bit about my background, we had a really polite conversation. He didn’t need to do that.

“And til today, and I told Mick [Schumacher] this story as well, when he came to me, and I said, I really appreciated that as a young kid coming into F1 with a guy who was on my bedroom wall. That meant a lot and still means a lot even today.”

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