Race Weekend Essentials: Formula 1 Commentator And Williams Heritage Driver Karun Chandhok
Published March 7, 2023
by Jack Benyon
Not only is he an 11-time Grand Prix starter, but inside the industry Karun Chandhok has become one of the most well-respected analytical commentators working in Formula 1 right now.
The ex-HRT and Lotus F1 driver had a diverse career including Formula E and Le Mans too, and as part of his commentary role with Sky Sports F1 in the UK, he’s driven modern F1 cars as well as his outings for Williams Heritage steering some of the brand’s most famous, classic – and valuable! – cars.
With Chandhok having to be prepared for driving a priceless car or commentating on a race at the top level at any time, Podium Life interviewed Chandhok to see what’s in his race weekend essentials bag.
This is a regular feature at Podium Life, so if there’s a competitor or motorsport personality you’d like us to interview, let us know!
What can’t you live without?
I would say my computer actually. I work for myself, I’ve got seven different jobs. I don’t have a PA and two kids so all my spare time on long haul flights that used to be my peaceful time to watch movies has long gone!
It’s now spent connecting to the dreaded in-flight WiFi and clearing my mailbox, writing columns and spreadsheets and trying to juggle things. I’m old school, I have a PC. I’m one of these weird people that have an Apple phone, an iPad, and then a PC.
I just couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a Mac and to be honest!
I use Excel and I use Microsoft Office a lot. In the early days it was never optimised [for Mac], I’m sure it is now but a lot of functionality was never optimised for Mac back then so I just stuck to PC and then stayed with it. I’ve got a Dell XPS.
Certainly when I was racing, things like Le Mans and stuff, it was my coffee machine. I do need a good coffee to get going in the morning. It’s a very south Indian thing that people from the south of India are a bit like the Italians, like ‘do not talk to us until we’ve had that first coffee in the morning, do not engage, do not talk to me!’. Even my kids know that now!
We don’t want to put you on the spot, but which team has the best coffee? Unsurprisingly, the Italian ones. Actually Red Bull have always got a good coffee machine on the go. The Ferrari and the Pirelli coffees are definitely the invite to have.
Do you carry anything superstitious with you?
I used to be in my early days of racing. I had the lucky race boots and the lucky gloves and then it’s like, guess what, sponsors change and you gotta change colour!
You’ve just got to forget all that. If you haven’t got sponsors, you aren’t going racing anyway.
So I got rid of the superstitions pretty early on, I would say. The only thing I sort of kept – which I guess is part superstition and part became a habit – was I always got into the car from the right-hand side.
It just feels weird to me. I don’t think it is superstitious, I don’t think anything bad will happen if I get in from the other side. It feels weird now, even when I’m doing the Williams stuff now and doing the tests, I just can’t get in the car from the left-hand side. I have to get in from the right.
We shouldn’t forget you’re still driving semi-regularly. Is there anything you make sure you have in the bag for any testing you might be doing?
Ear plugs! Definitely! When you’re driving the V10 cars especially, compared to the modern hybrids, I’ve driven some of them as well. But compared to the modern hybrids, you get into the BMW V10 which is at 20,000 RPM or even the Renault V10s. The Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill-era cars, because they are so loud which is what we loved about them and what we continue to love about them. So yeah, never go without any ear plugs.
Technology is ever-evolving and I imagine we’re a long way from people like Murray Walker sticking written commentary notes to the wall?
You would say that but Crofty [David Croft, Sky Sports F1] still goes in there and does papier mache across the entire commentary box! I do actually see the method of madness, and I think it is a commentators’ thing.
It’s quite interesting because I do commentary now, I’m doing seven weekends with Formula E as well as the 14 races in F1 this year. Two thirds of both, basically. I’ve now worked with 14 different commentators and it’s really interesting to see how different each of them are.
Like Jack [Nicholls, Formula E] has got all of his notes on his laptop and he prepares this sort of document that he circulates before the race so I’ve got it as well. I just have it on my iPad and scroll through.
But Crofty shows up with all of his notes stuck on the wall in the comedy box for easy reference and actually, it is a bit easier because then you can just turn and it’s all there. You don’t have to scroll through.
We’re lucky, we’ve got good statisticians who help us at Sky that send us a lot of stuff before the races. That’s useful.
Also having the regulations is so helpful. You get into situations like Japan last year that’s pandemonium. Nobody knows, including the teams, whether Max [Verstappen] is world champion or not, and all those times it’s just useful to have the rules and regs close at hand.
The world has changed in many ways because I can’t imagine, Murray [Walker, legendary commentator] probably had to wander around with a notebook writing all of his handwritten notes and taking them to the comms-box. Whereas we get spoon fed all of these stats!
Whether it’s driving or commentating, you must live on planes. Is there anything you can pack that helps with that?
When you have a driving career, or career in any sport, training and stuff just becomes a part of your life.
I made a switch about four or five years ago, I just embraced jet-lag, because earlier I used to get really pissed off not getting enough sleep and get really stressed about that. I can’t sleep, you’re willing yourself to sleep, but you can’t sleep and you just get in that cycle.
Whereas now, I always carry my gym kit wherever I go. I carry things like the TRX exercise straps in my hand luggage all the time. So wherever I am, if I get up at 4am or 5am in Austin for example, I’ll get up, have my coffee, obviously, do a bit of emails and then go and do some exercise in the morning.
I find it really sets me up for the day whenever I’m travelling. I think it’s what I’ve just gotten used to because I spent a 17-year career racing full-time where every day I woke up and went training six days a week. It becomes so much a part of your mental health I think as much as the physical benefits.
My wife sees it, even when we go on holiday, she’ll see by like the third day where I haven’t had a chance to go and do a bit of exercise or whatever, I’m getting grumpy and getting edgy and she’s like, ‘you need to go and exercise for an hour then come back’!
Do you wear a particular brand of sunglasses?
Like most people who work in motor racing, I leave my sunglasses in various paddocks around the world. I never buy expensive ones!
Is there anything else you simply have to carry for travel?
I think carrying the headphones has now become essential. My AirPods just go with me everywhere because I’m big into podcasts. I really enjoy listening to them, I find it educational. And also, when you want to FaceTime your kids from the track and show children racecars and they get very excited!
And also an eye mask for the flight. Because that’s one thing I have to sleep in a really dark room. If you’re travelling to places like Singapore where you have to sleep in the daytime on an F1 weekend and the hotels don’t always block out the light. I’ve always got a stash of BA eye masks in my bag.