BENGALURU: To get a drive in Formula One is a dream for many racers. But to be part of that elite bunch the world watches in awe is as tough as it can get. And when you get there, it is a dog-eat-dog world and survival is tough.
When the Haas Formula One Team announced signing up Arjun Maini as one of their development drivers recently, it kindled fresh interest among motorsport lovers in India. While Europe has no shortage of racing heroes whom kids can idolise, India was woefully behind. After Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, there have been no Indians driving in Formula One. But things are looking up and there could be another Indian driving in F1 in the near future.
Maini, along with another youngster Jehan Daruvala, gives us hope. Not only was he signed up by an F1 team, he also became the first Indian to win a GP3 race recently. “I think it’s on the rise. The Indian Grand Prix has not run for a few years but the sport is doing well now,” he told Express after returning to Bengaluru. “If you see the new kids karting in the championships, you can see how impressive it looks. I am happy to show the way with Jehan, to try and make it to the top. My brother (Kush) is doing a good job as well.”
The problem has been that Karthikeyan and Chandhok never had a step-by-step graduation to F1. Fortunately, there are better options now and Maini is one of the drivers reaping the benefits. “There are a lot more championships. I started off by watching F1 and that got me into my first go-kart. Unfortunately, a lot of Indians don’t have the opportunity that I had from a supportive and understanding father, who was a driver himself,” he said.
“The actual talent of the current drivers is really strong. It just needs to be nurtured in the right way and Indian motorsport needs that. The most important thing is for the young drivers to look at themselves rather than blaming anything or anyone. That’s what I learnt,” he said, while adding that family support is a crucial component to be successful.
While being around the F1 paddock has been inspiring for the 19-year-old, it was a lot of hard work to get there and how to maintain composure. “Mental preparation is crucial because the most important thing for a driver is to be completely relaxed in the car. The more you think, the harder it gets. Keeping a clear head is important,” he stated.
Apart from the mental preparation, there are a lot of technical things to learn to be a successful driver. “You have to know your role as a driver. My role is to give correct feedback to the engineer so that he can make the changes. I need to find a way to break down what the car is feeling and what I am feeling. I need to understand the car, the aerodynamics etc.,” he explained.
All this effort has paid off. Particularly sweet was the GP3 win in Barcelona that made the world sit up and take note of this youngster. “I started from second and took the lead at the start. I had to battle (with Dorian Boccolacci) for those two laps. I think those two laps were the best of my career so far. The battle was so intense that it was very important for me to win. After I finished in first place, it was a great relief because I made it,” Maini said.
While actually getting to drive in F1 is tough, sustained effort will only increase chances. Being signed up as a development driver for a prominent team has just increased Maini’s chances of making it to the big league.