The Italian and the Indian
I don’t like Team Lotus at the best of times. I can’t stand Tony Fernandes or Mike Gascoyne, I hate the fact that they decided they had to enter Formula 1 using the Lotus name and the battle with Danny Bahar has done my head in hoping they would both just shut up for once.
But now, they’ve given me a pile of ammunition to stick in my gun and fire at them. They have decided that the best course of action for the German Grand Prix would be to drop Jarno Trulli and replace him with Karun Chandhok.
Now call me cynical, but I don’t think this is a racing matter.
The decision, as said by Team Lotus themselves, is for Chandhok to prove himself in the car. Most likely for, wait for it, this will shock you, the Indian Grand Prix in October. In theory it is a fair idea, if he does well, the seat will pretty much be secure for him come the race, but what if he performs poorly? What if he is further off Kovalainen than Trulli ever was? What if he struggles in the race? It does sound like a lot of what if’s, but they are all plausible, because for me, Karun Chandhok is nowhere near the racer Jarno Trulli is, or ever was.
Jarno Trulli is a race winner, one time only at the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix. Of course there were many more races he had won in the junior formulae, as well as proving himself to be a one-lap specialist in qualifying, often given a midfield car a position it didn’t really deserved. His race pace wasn’t the greatest, leading to the infamous Trulli Train’s which plagued many tracks in the 2000s. But ultimately he was a good driver, good enough certainly to have raced in 15 full seasons (and half of 2011 as well).
Karun Chandhok obviously hasn’t really had the opportunity yet to show himself in Formula 1, half a season in the slowest car of the grid at Hispania before being replaced by the slowest driver on the grid Sakon Yamamoto. He has won championships in the junior series, but this against considerably weaker opposition. Take for example the 2006 Formula Renault V6 Series, which he eventually won. The second place driver, New Zealander Matthew Halliday, is now struggling in the Porsche Supercup. The third place driver, Ananda Mikola, doesn’t seem to have anything about him since 2009. The only time Chandhok has come across any decent competition aside from F1 is his three years in GP"2, where he won two races overall and never finished higher than tenth in the Championship. This despite the fact his team mate in 2008, Bruno Senna, went on to finish as runner-up that year. Realistically, Chandhok has shown nothing to prove himself, he’s capable of getting fair results in GP2, that is clear, but not enough to show he can cut it at the big level, unlike, say, Jarno Trulli.
Yes, I understand that the Italian is having probably his worst season. His one-lap pace is being obliterated by a talented Heikki Kovalainen (who does deserve to be in a faster car than the Lotus), he is making complaints about the car left, right and centre, which I can’t imagine is pleasing the team and especially the mechanics. I do feel Trulli should be realising that he is well past his peak and his performances are only hampering the progress of Team Lotus in the long term. If Chandhok ends up taking the seat altogether from Trulli (at this stage it is only a one off, but if he somehow manages to have a good race for example) though, the progress would only be further hurt. It would give a chance for both Virgin and Hispania to see a weak link in the Lotus armoury and give them some hope they can go after that all elusive tenth place, which gives them a lot of money. All Hispania need is another 13th and their best finish will be equal to Team Lotus. And imagine that, being beaten in the Championship by the team everybody laughs at for being awful. I wouldn’t count it out either, give it a bit of rain and anything can happen.
So why do this then? Chandhok isn’t going to be the driver that will get you results. He also is going to give some hope to Virgin and Hispania. And while he is at it, for the second year in a row, he’s ruining my New Team’s Championship.
Again, there is a massive chance this is a massive marketing ploy by Team Lotus. India is a huge market. Huge. The potential to make money from there is spectacular, and so far very few teams have opted to use it. The big and prime example is Force India, but have ultimately failed to gain much of the market, mainly because of the struggle for good Indian drivers. I don’t see one coming in anytime soon either, especially after Vijay Mallya said that Karthikeyan and Chandhok weren’t good enough for Formula 1. After some brief research, the next best Indian is Armaan Ebrahim, who is currently 15th in the Formula 2. Which isn’t that great a series. So the options are limited really between Karthikeyan and Chandhok, which is odd, because I still wouldn’t touch them with a stick. There are better options out there, of course they aren’t Indian, so Fernandes would go for them if he wasn’t trying to appease this large Indian market.
There is the fact that this isn’t really for Chandhok at all, rather a rather large hint towards Jarno Trulli saying ‘buck your ideas up kid or this will happen again’. As I’ve said, he has been very poor this season, and probably does deserve some warning that his future at the team is at stake. I don’t think he should be replaced mid-season however, despite his constant complaints, he has managed to get the car to the finish line all but twice, compare this to his team mate Heikki Kovalainen who has retired four times. So something is obviously working on his car, and something on it wants him to do well. Why does he complain all the time then? Is he really expecting perfection from a team in their second year chasing the back of the midfield, it’s insane, this is a long term gain not short term. And with his years running out, why is he bothering then? Go, ultimately then you’d be better off without them, I’m sure the mechanics are giving it hell trying to make the car the best and all he does is complain about their work basically. It’s hardly the right thing to do to keep team harmony at a high level.
But it looks almost as if he is staying, for a bizarre reason, talks with Trulli staying in 2012 are apparently at an advanced stage and looking likely to happen. So why Chandhok, now? If you are happy enough with Trulli do you really have to replace him with Chandhok for one race. It is just a odd decision to make, why Germany? Why not the race before the Indian Grand Prix, to give the fairest indication about Chandhok’s frame of mind before what would effectively be his home grand prix. Why do they even need to take another race out? He has experience with this car thanks to his Friday practice sessions, and if they have trust in him so much for him to drive in one race, then why not just for India. Is this some attempt from Fernandes to save face and make the decision for him to race in India look less like a blatant marketing ploy? And does he plan on using Chandhok further in 2012? No doubt he’ll want to keep Heikki Kovalainen, the only driver in the entire team who looks of any ability to catch the Toro Rosso’s and Williams’ of this world. Then Chandhok for the Indian market and Trulli for some other reason. Three drivers into two doesn’t work, ask Red Bull in 2005, which ended painfully for Vitantonio Liuzzi.
So let’s put it simply. Trulli isn’t driving well enough to continue driving for Team Lotus, Chandhok has never shown he is good enough to drive for Team Lotus. But for some reason, they’ll both be staying, both will end up racing and some good up and coming talent will be totally ignored by Team Lotus by Tony Fernandes. I’m not sure Team Lotus can come out looking good from this.