Jehan Daruvala(James Gasperotti.)
Jehan Daruvala(James Gasperotti.)

Champagne Daruvala

The journey from the Mumbai suburb of Dadar to the very heart of Grand Prix racing has been a little more convoluted for Daruvala. The 21-year-old, however, has expertly manoeuvred his life’s journey through the slick lanes and tight bends.
NEW DELHI | By Sandip Sikdar
UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2020 11:36 AM IST

It only takes about an hour or so to drive from Hammersmith in London to the Silverstone racing circuit—a simple and hassle-free drive that Carlin’s Jehan Daruvala has had to make prior to the F2 race-weekends this fortnight.

But the journey from the Mumbai suburb of Dadar to the very heart of Grand Prix racing has been a little more convoluted for Daruvala. The 21-year-old, however, has expertly manoeuvred his life’s journey through the slick lanes and tight bends—and therefore putting himself on the cusp of living out his ultimate dream of becoming an F1 driver.

Today Daruvala is an F2 driver. And consistent podiums in F2 has seen several graduations to the pinnacle of motorsport in the recent past—Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Lando Norris (McLaren) and George Russell (Williams) among others. While Daruvala’s rookie season hasn’t really gone according to plan, his career graph over the last few years is reason enough to believe that bigger and better things always lie ahead for this Mumbaikar.

Last year, Daruvala was part of the F3 circuit, where he won two races, stepped on to the rostrum a further five times, was a title contender for the entire season and eventually finished third in the drivers’ championship.

Jehan Daruvala. (James Gasperotti.)
Jehan Daruvala. (James Gasperotti.)

All that earned him a seat in Formula 2—the top-most tier of junior motorsport—with the British outfit Carlin, which had won the teams’ championship in 2018. Significantly, he was also picked by Formula 1 team Red Bull for its junior programme, which has produced the likes of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and multiple Grand Prix winners Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Almost instantly, Daruvala impressed in F2 by topping timesheets during testing in March. But the season itself hasn’t gone how he’d have liked. In five race-weekends so far (including Saturday), Daruvala has been able to finish in the points only three times and is yet to climb atop a podium step.

“It hasn’t been an easy start to the season,” he says during a phone call from Silverstone. “The speed was there, but in Round 1 I got taken out by my teammate (Yuki Tsunoda) which compromised the weekend. In Round 2 I made a mistake fighting for points. Those are mistakes I shouldn’t be making but you learn from that.”

He believes that once his starts improve, so will his season. “The races have been positive in terms of speed. Where I need to improve is in my starts. I’m pretty confident that once I improve my starts, I can fight for podiums because the speed is there.”

Though Daruvala has had a poor start to the season, failing to score in the first four races (all in Austria), he is slowly coming into his own and has been in the points in three out of the last five races (including Saturday’s feature race).

After scoring his first F2 points— he was sixth in the feature race and seventh in the sprint race in Hungary—the Indian finished just outside the podium in the second race in Silverstone last week, gaining eight positions at the end of the sprint race along the way.

“It feels good. Especially after two weekends of not scoring. But my target is not to score points. I need much better results—like qualifying for the front row,” says Daruvala, who idolises two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Today, Daruvala (14th with 18 points going into Sunday’s sprint race) trails his teammate Tsunoda by 29 points. Before this race weekend, Tsunoda had made the points just twice, but on both occasions he landed up on the podium.

“It’s not easy to move up (from F3 to F2) and straightaway get to the front. But that’s what we expect of ourselves,” says Daruvala, who was one of the only two drivers to lead last year’s F3 championship, the other being eventual champion Robert Shwartzman. “In F2, cars are bigger, heavier and you have a lot more power. Tyres are a lot bigger. You have to get used to carbon brakes and it’s a completely different procedure to warm them up and keep them warm during races. If you don’t keep the brakes up to temperature, it affects performance.”

Being picked by an F1 team like Red Bull for their junior programme definitely boosts the profile of a driver. It also gives him technical assistance (engineers etc.) and puts him within reach of an F1 seat. But with the latter comes enormous pressure.

“Now that you’re a step away from F1, there is more pressure. There’s also pressure being part of the Red Bull junior team. If you can’t deliver under pressure, you’re not ready for F1,” he says.

The F1 dream was possibly hatched by Force India, whose ‘One in a Billion’ driver hunt in 2011 earned him a spot in their academy. With an F1 team’s backing at an early age, Daruvala won multiple karting series in India, Asia and later in Europe. Then, in 2013, he became the first Asian to win the British Championship.

Daruvala immediately progressed to formula racing but Force India folded in 2018. The outsider, however, has learned to survive.

All through his career, Daruvala has been racing against drivers who come from racing royalty—Mick Schumacher (son of Michael), Guiliano Alesi (son of Jean) and Pedro Piquet (son of Nelson and brother of Nelson Jr).

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a Schumacher or Alesi—all of us have the same opportunity to go to F1,” he says.

True. His rivals may be blessed with hefty surnames in car-racing. But if Daruvala’s journey in motorsport progresses a step further, he too would’ve earned his right to become a household name.

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