India’s Karun Chandhok is a genuine fan of motorsport on all levels. Having successfully navigated the minefield of junior single-seater championships and made it to Formula One, Chandhok is well placed to pass judgement on the difficulties facing today’s crop of young drivers looking to make their next career steps.
“I think it’s getting there,” says Chandhok, who landed in F1 via British Formula 3, World Series and GP2. “Certainly there is a place for GP3, but there’s also a place for Formula 3 in the world of motorsports and we shouldn’t lose either of those categories. They’re both very important, they both play a role and you can say the same with GP2 and World Series, although it would be good if each of them were cheaper…
With Davide Valsecchi last year and now Stefano Coletti breaking through only after several seasons in the category, and much-maligned duo Rodolfo Gonzalez and Sergio Canamasas on the books of the Marussia and Caterham F1 teams respectively, fears that GP2 is no longer breeding the same calibre of top talent are not without substance.
“There’s no question the quality of drivers in GP2 isn’t what it was five years ago,” Chandhok concedes. “If you look at 2008 when I did GP2, you had [Giorgio] Pantano, [Lucas] di Grassi, Bruno Senna, [Pastor] Maldonado, [Andreas] Zuber, [Luca] Filippi, [Romain] Grosjean, myself, [Vitaly] Petrov, Adam Carroll, Mike Conway. You’re looking at a load of drivers who have then gone in to win races and championships or raced in Formula One or IndyCars, sportscars and been strong, whereas now I don’t think you have the depth.
That said, Chandhok believes the problem is on its way to being resolved, with greater impetus on a more integrated ladder system being pushed by high-profile figures Bruno Michel and Gerhard Berger, responsible for GP2/ GP3 and Formula 3 respectively, although the British F3 Series – won by Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mikka Hakkinen in the past – may become a high-profile casualty.
“This year European F3 looks fantastic, it’s a great little championship,” says Chandhok. “The year I did F3 in 2004 was super strong; there was Will Power, [James] Rossiter, Adam Carroll, Nelson Piquet Jr., Will Davison, Clivio Piccione, EJ Viso, Danny Watts, quality across the board, which we didn’t really have for a while. But now that they’ve cleaned up the F3 situation a bit and with World Series and GP2 having formed their own niches in the market, it all looks pretty stable now.
“The reality is the market isn’t there for two strong F3 championships [British and European], the money’s not there. The ideal would be if they amalgamated and formed one strong championship, which I think they’ve all kind of done with European F3. It’s a shame British F3 didn’t say ‘look, this is where the market is, we’re going to join the European championship’ but keep circuits like Oulton Park, Brands Hatch Grand Prix, Donington and Silverstone. With four iconic British circuits and six European circuits you would have had a great championship, so what they’re doing with British F3 now is a bit sad – to have only two rounds in the UK and two rounds in Europe – it’s a bit messy.”