Karun Chandhok is a racing driver from India, best-known after his short spell in the Formula 1 World Championship. He recorded eleven starts in F1 Grand Prix races in 2010 and 2011.
After leaving F1, he spent most of time in sports car competitions, recording five attempts at Le Mans 24 Hours. He was also driving for Mahindra Racing in the inaugural season of the FIA Formula E Championship (2014-2015).
A son of rally champion and motorsport official
He was born on January 19, 1984, in the megacity of Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Since his young age, Karun was involved in the world of racing after his father Vicky became a multiple national rally champion and later the president of Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India. However, the younger Chandhok wasn’t interested in off-road racing, so he began racing on the circuits.
Karun’s first success was in 2000 when he became Indian Formula Maruti champion after winning 7 out of 10 races that year. The following year, Chandhok became the youngest Asian Formula 2000 champion. En route to the title he won 8 out of 14 races and had other five podium finishes.
Departure to England in 2002
With two titles in his pocket and with an ambition to become even more popular and successful, Chandhok left India in 2002 and moved to England. He spent two years competing in the British F3 National Class and did pretty well. In his first season, Karun was 6th, while in 2003 he finished 3rd overall, with seven wins in his books and he had a total of 20 podium finishes.
In 2004, young Indian driver progressed to British Formula 3 but the results weren’t as good as in the previous years, so he finished 14th. He also partnered his compatriot Narain Karthikeyan in the World Series, in the final two rounds, but again failed to achieve notable results.
Asian Formula Renault champion
Karthikeyan moved to Formula 1 in 2005 and became the first Indian driver in the history of the most popular championship, while Chandhok had a brief spell in A1 Grand Prix. Karun entered Formula Renault 3.5 Series with RC Motorsport but left the team before the sixth race of the season.
After a couple of relatively unsuccessful years in Europe, Chandhok returned home to compete in 2006 Formula V6 Asia by Renault. He won 7 out of 12 races and won the title which was a big confidence boost for the Indian driver. At the same time, he earned a chance in the GP2 Series.
The GP2 Series career
As a driver of Durango team, Chandhok had a solid rookie season in GP2 Series. He won the sprint race at Spa and scored a couple more times in the second half of the season before finishing 15th overall. In November of 2007, he got a call from the Red Bull Racing to test their formula at the Catalunya Circuit.
Next year, Chandhok again competed in the GP2 Series, this time driving for the iSport International. He performed better than in the previous season and finished 10th in the standings after winning the race at Hockenheim. He was third in Monaco and Silverstone. After a solid season, he earned series ’Best Driving Style Award’ at the end of the year.
Indian driver spent another year in GP2 Series, this time as a member of Ocean Racing Technology team. It was a really hard year for Chandhok, marked by many retirements and pretty poor results. The 3rd place in the sprint race at Silverstone was the only bright moment in the season which Karun ended at 18th position.
Formula 1 debut
In 2010, Chandhok debuted in Formula 1 which was a surprise for many but he had a lucrative backing by his sponsors. Interestingly, he signed with Hispania Racing Team at the moment when many were expecting that he will sign with Force India. He was linked with the Indian team before, as well as in 2011, but he never got an opportunity to drive for the team owned by Vijay Mallya.
The beginning in Formula 1 was hard and it wasn’t a surprise. Hispania Racing Team was never able to make a competitive car, so Chandhok's short spell with the team was marked by poor results and retirements. In the mid-season, he was dropped from the team and replaced with Sakon Yamamoto.
In 2011, Chandhok was a reserve driver at Lotus F1 Team. He barely got an opportunity to drive in practice sessions but in the German Grand Prix, he replaced Jarno Trulli in the race. That was his last F1 appearing and was inglorious one. He finished last in the race, four laps behind the race winner Lewis Hamilton.
Switch to other racing categories
After Formula 1 period, Chandhok switched to endurance racing in 2012. Driving alongside David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck for Sumo Power team in the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 class, Indian racer did relatively well. They scored points in 7 out of 8 races that year, including the 5th place in Le Mans 24 Hours, before finishing 10th in the final standings.
In the next season, Chandhok moved to the FIA GT Series, driving for Seyffarth Motorsport and Vitaphone Racing. The results weren’t as good as in the previous year but Karun was still able to collect 32 points and take 13th place in the championship. The same year he also competed with Murphy Prototypes at Le Mans 24 Hours and finished in the LMP2 class.
Season in Formula E
In 2014, a new competition was formed – FIA Formula E Championship. Chandhok signed with the Indian team Mahindra Racing and the start of the season was pretty good. Karun finished in points in Beijing and Putrajaya, but the rest of the season went wrong because he couldn’t pick a single point in the remaining nine e-Prix. With 18 points on his account, Chandhok finished 17th overall.
Last Le Mans attempt in 2017
The same year Chandhok was again present at Circuit de la Sarthe for the Le Mans 24. Driving for Murphy Prototypes he failed to finish the race, while next year, with the same team, he was 5th in the class driving alongside Nathanael Berthon and Mark Patterson. Karun was also a member of the Irish team for one round of European Le Mans Series in 2016.
In 2017, he joined Tockwith Motorsport at Le Mans 24 Hours. Driving the #34 Ligier JS P2 together with Philip Hanson and Nigel Moore, he finished in 11th place.
When he was dropped from the Hispania Racing Team in 2010, Chandhok worked as a co-commentator on BBC Radio 5 Live and did the same during 2011. From 2013 to 2015 he worked on Sky Sports, while in 2016 he joined Channel 4 as a reporter and technical analyst. The same year he also became the official driver for Williams’ Heritage division and debuted at Goodwood Festival of Speed.
In 2008, Chandhok became the first Indian who was invited to become a member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. He is also responsible for two major charity events – the Karun’s Karting Festival in the summer in the UK, and a 500 km cycling event in South India to raise funds for the education of underprivileged children.