F1 is not the dream anymore’

The endurance round of the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe at Hockenheimring was full of action and frequent safety car interuptions.

Published: 03rd January 2023 06:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2023 01:52 PM   |  A+A-

Bengaluru-based racer Arjun Maini

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The endurance round of the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe at Hockenheimring was full of action and frequent safety car interuptions.  Amid the chaos, Bengaluru-based racer Arjun Maini, along with HRT teammates Hubert Haupt (Germany) and Florian Scholze (Germany), managed to keep cool and secure a podium finish in the gold class – thier second of the season.

25-year-old Arjun, who has previously driven in Formula 2, GP3 and the World Endurance Championship,  says his transition to GT racing from single-seaters and prototypes was tougher than he imagined. “It was harder than I thought but I was on pace quickly. It worked out perfectly in the end given the results so far,” he shares.

After nearly a year away from home, racing in Europe, Arjun has returned to the city for a much-needed break. “Coming back home is always incredible. There’s nowhere else that I would rather live. I love dosaes, and the first thing I do when I get home is eat some,” he laughs.

Arjun grew up watching Michael Schumacher’s dominance in Formula 1 with Ferrari in the early ’00s, which inspired him to take up racing at the age of eight. He quickly proved himself capable in karts, raking in wins and championships and was touted as a future F1 talent. He continued his winning streak after graduating to cars, despite ever-increasing odds.

In his first season in Formula 4, he lost to his then teammate and current Mercedes F1 driver George Russell by just 3 points. He progressed to GP3 and eventually F2. But the results, although exceptional at times, ceased consistency. Saddled with some of the slowest machinery on the grid, Arjun often struggled with his race pace. “You sometimes don’t know whether it’s you that’s on the back foot or your machine. So, it’s very tough,” he shares.

Despite regularly fighting for points, Arjun’s performances often went unnoticed. Apart from a victory and a few podiums, his stint in F2 didn’t turn heads. Following his exit from F2 in 2019, his F1 dreams were dampened. He sought greener pastures and did a stint of endurance racing, including a stint in the prestigious Le Mans 24h, amongst a field that had the likes of two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso. “I really didn’t like the politics in F2. I wanted to go back to the kind of racing we did in junior formulae,” he shares. “I’m still in love with the sport. But F1 is not the dream anymore.”

Having raced with several current F1 drivers in junior formulae, Arjun has intimate knowledge about their strengths. With George Russell and Charles Leclerc most likely to go head-to-head next year, which one is likely to come out on top? “Both are very close. But I would put my money on Russell. Although Leclerc is slightly quicker, Russell is more consistent and resilient,” Arjun concludes.

‘I was super excited to announce that I would be doing F2

The dramatic 2012 F1 Brazilian GP was an action-packed and dramatic race that is remembered for being Michael Schumacher’s final race. But the Sao Paulo race was also the final race for India’s first F1 driver Narain Karthikeyan, who had made his grand prix debut seven years ago. Since then, the country has been waiting for another driver to represent in the pinnacle of motorsports.

Over the last decade, nearly five drivers from the country have climbed the junior formulae ladder, only to miss out on the final prize – a seat in F1. Arjun Maini, who in 2011, won the One in a Billion Driver Hunt, was one of them. But despite his promising stints in GP3 and Formula 2, Maini failed to make a lasting mark.

Kush Maini

Now, Maini’s younger brother, Kush Maini is hoping to follow in his brother’s footsteps and achieve what the former wasn’t able to. For the upcoming 2023 season, Kush will race in F2, alongside Ralph Boschung for Campos Racing team. “It’s a massive step up. I was super excited to announce that I would be doing F2. And also, to drive the car for the first-time during testing,” he shares.

Having tested an F2 car as part of his preparation for the upcoming season, Kush is upbeat about his chances. “I felt like the car suited my driving style and I could be quick straight away,” he says. “When you have a good feeling from the start, it’s always a positive thing.”

But with the season opener nearly three-months away, Kush is avoiding thinking about the season and is winding down back at home in Bengaluru. “It’s going to get very hectic, so I’m trying to just wind down and not even think about it. With 14 rounds, next season is going to be tough. So, I’m just trying to recharge before I can push all the way through,” he shares.

The son of a former racing driver Sandeep Maini, Kush grew up as a McLaren fan, watching Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen from the early noughties and then revisiting Ayrton Senna’s races as he grew older. “The way Kimi and Mika handled themselves, remaining cool under high pressure was fascinating,” he says. Along with his father, Kush says his brother Arjun was a major influence on his desire to become a racing driver. “It started quite like a hobby, because my brother was doing it. Everything my brother did, I wanted to try and be too,” he says, adding that he only started to take racing seriously once he started competing in Europe.

A karting champion at the age of just 10, Kush was very confident of his abilities when he moved to Europe. But he remembers being devastated after failing to even qualify for his first event. “I was 12 when I moved to Europe. But as a national champion, I didn’t even make it to the final. That was a massive shock, because I had come thinking that I’m the best, but there were more than 60 guys ahead of me,” he says.

Since then, Kush has come a long way, showing much promise during his F3 season, taking his first podium at Hungaroring on the way. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, he still firmly believes in his dream of reaching F1 someday. “The dream is alive, otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing. In this sport, you can’t think ahead, you just have to do your job and hope for the best,” he shares, adding that having a brother who has already raced in F2 and knows the ins-and-outs of the sport has been a major benefit.
“Arjun’s always the first person that I go to for advice. He’s very supportive of me and even on my race days, I’ll call him and speak to him for 20-30 minutes, it helps calm me down,” he concludes.

While older brother Arjun Maini recently secured his second podium finish at the GT World Challenge Europe, younger boy Kush Maini is stepping up to the next season of FIA Formula 2. In a candid conversation with dese gowda, the siblings share what it takes to reach the finish line


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