Exclusive Interview: Jehan Daruvala Opens Up About Rookie Season with Maserati MSG Racing in Formula E

After an illustrious 14-year racing career, Jehan Daruvala is poised to fulfil a long-awaited dream of racing on home turf in India at the upcoming Hyderabad ePrix with Maserati MSG Racing. Daruvala shares his thoughts on this significant opportunity.

By Kunal Shah | on November 15, 2023 Follow us on Autox Google News

Jehan Daruvala’s destination for 2024 was long known. His career pivoted from Formula 1 to Formula E late last year when he was announced as Mahindra Racing’s test and reserve driver for 2023. However, Jehan took the world, especially Indian Motorsport fans, by surprise when he announced that he would be racing for Maserati MSG Racing in 2024 instead.

In the uber-competitive all-electric racing series, Jehan will be the only rookie among a grid of 22 drivers. In an hour long chat for autoX, Jehan tells me why and how Maserati MSG Racing happened over Mahindra Racing - a topic that’s of key interest among his fan base.

He also shares his reasons to not participate in the final Formula 2 round in Abu Dhabi, his preparations and targets for his maiden Formula E season, how he’s settling in with Maserati MSG Racing (MMR) and more.

Mahindra Racing

Based on my understanding and conversations, Jehan’s relationship with Mahindra Racing (MR) was going to convert to a full-time race seat in 2024. In fact, a mid-season opportunity with MR arose when the team prematurely parted ways with Oliver Rowland with 4 rounds to spare.

Jehan Daruvala Mahindra Racing 2

Interestingly at the time, Jehan chose to focus on Formula 2 despite an opportunity offered by MR to replace Rowland. “At the point Oliver (Rowland) left the team, Jehan wanted to focus on his Formula 2 commitments. With that in mind, we turned to Roberto (Merhi) after an impressive Berlin Rookie Test, and with his strong track record in international motorsport,” confirmed MR’s Team Principal Frederic Bertrand to me for this story. 

After the conclusion of season in 2023, Mahindra Racing let go of their driver pairing of Oliver Rowland and Lucas di Grassi. For the fans, it became even more obvious that Jehan would fill one of the two available cockpits at Mahindra Racing, fueling their dream of having an “Indian driver racing for an Indian team”.

However, MR chose Edoardo Mortara and former Formula E World Champion Nyck De Vries for 2024, while Jehan signed with MMR. As I understand the driver situation, it wasn’t a case of a simple swap between drivers (Mortara-Jehan) for the two teams. 

Bertrand explained the team’s decision, “For Season 10 (2024), we took a decision to sign two drivers with Formula E experience. This is crucial for the team, both to develop the current car, but also with one eye on the future in Gen3EVO." 

Bertrand’s comments are in line with what he told me at the Berlin ePrix in April earlier in the year on how Mahindra Racing was approaching it’s driver line-up for the seasons to come.

However, it seems that the relationship between Jehan and Mahindra Racing didn’t materialise in the contract stage. Explaining the situation, Jehan says, “Yes, I was at Mahindra Racing so everyone thought I would race for them in 2024. But at the end of the day, we couldn’t reach a mutual understanding.” 

Maserati MSG Racing - How it All Happened

Jehan signed with the famous Alexander and Julian Jakobi (of GP Sports Management fame) a few seasons ago to manage his racing affairs. He credited the duo for the surprise opportunity with MMR.

Formula E Jehan Daruvala 3

“When they told me (about MMR) on the phone, I was like, yes, we have to push for this option. In the end, we had a great deal and an agreement with Maserati MSG Racing. For me, it’s my rookie season in Formula E and to get an opportunity with a team that is a proven race winner and podium scorer is definitely a dream!” says Jehan matter of factly.

He continues, “If you ask any driver, they want to have the opportunity to be in a car that can get results and score points right away. To have this opportunity in my rookie year is rare.”

Maserati MSG Racing formerly competed in Formula E as Venturi Racing (from 2014-22). In 2022-23, the team scored two pole positions, one race win and three podium finishes. As Venturi Racing, the team finished second and third in the Teams’ Championship in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons respectively.

In a short span of his Formula E career, Jehan has already worked with two of the top teams in the series. We discussed some of the similarities and differences between the two and Jehan candid admits, “There will always be some teams that are faster than the others - and that’s how racing is. It’s really hard to compare as they’re both good teams with great facilities and talented people. In the end, it's the fine margins that make a difference. Everyone has different ways of working and at the end of the day, they (Mahindra Racing) didn’t have a competitive car.”

Again, earlier in the year, Frederic Bertrand shared in-depth insights about Mahindra Racing’s struggles in Formula E’s Gen3 era and how he plans to resurrect the team’s fortunes in the coming seasons.

Settling in with Maserati MSG Racing

Jehan shared that he spent a month in Monaco (MMR is based in Monaco) before the Formula E pre-season test in Valencia visiting the team’s facilities to get acquainted. Since 2021, Jehan has driven for three different teams in Formula 2, participated in Formula 1 tests with McLaren and has worked with two different teams in Formula E.

Formula E Jehan Daruvala 2

We identified ‘trust’ as a key factor in succeeding with new teams. Jehan says, “I went cycling with a few engineers and spent some evenings together. Overall, it’s been a good experience. It’s going to be a busy year ahead.”

He further shared that the best way to increase trust between a driver-engineer was by using the tools at their disposal. “You get a better understanding of each other when you work together in the simulator and on-track. Obviously, the folks at MMR haven’t worked with me before, and nor have I worked with them. But the best way to win trust is when my feedback matches what the team is seeing in the data - that correlation is a big trust winner,” explains Jehan.

He continues, “In Formula E, the margins are so small and they make a big difference in the results. We saw that in the pre-season test - one or two tenths could be 10-odd positions higher or lower in the final result. Again, this is where trust plays a role - for example, when my engineer tells me specific settings for a corner, I trust that his advice will help me extract more from the car. This way, we’re able to bring the most out of each other.”

Formula E - the Challenges, the Targets

In 2024, Jehan will become only the third Indian to participate in a World Championship single-seater racing series. Undeniably, Formula E is a highly-competitive and unpredictable racing series. In 2022-23, 9 different drivers scored a pole position while 7 different drivers won a race. Of the 11 teams on the grid, 9 teams finished on the podium while 6 of them won races. The challenge of Formula E is very high and different from what Jehan has previously experienced in his single-seater career.

Formula E Jehan Daruvala 1

Understandably, Jehan’s core focus in the coming months is on Formula E. He decided to not participate in the final Formula 2 race in Abu Dhabi in November. “My main reason to not race in Abu Dhabi is because I want to focus entirely on being ready for my rookie season in Formula E,” shares the 4 times Formula 2 race winner. 

Jehan also highlighted that he hadn’t raced against many of the current Formula E drivers. He says, “A lot of them are well-established drivers in Formula E - former championships and even drivers who succeeded in Formula 1 in the past. I don’t know where I would put myself among these guys. I’m the only rookie driver next year.”

“I’m really looking forward to my rookie season. It’s going to be a different challenge. We already know that Formula E has highly competitive teams and drivers. I expect the season to be full of learning and in many ways, I am quietly confident that I can do well,” says a confident Jehan.

Also Read: Formula E: Jaguar TCS' Mitch Evans Tops Valencia Pre-season Test

Over the years, the one key standout of my conversations with Jehan has been the ease with which we have managed to dig deeper into his racing mindset. And of course, Jehan’s unique ability to give simple and straightforward answers. 

Jehan says, while explaining his personal targets for 2024, “I don’t have targets in terms of absolute numbers. The main goal is to learn as much as I can and as quickly as I can. I have to prove myself in Formula E. My goal is to have a future in Formula E, so at the end of the day, the results matter.”

“If I don’t get good results, it’s obvious that the team won't keep me. I have this at the back of my mind and so the goal is to do well enough where I build a base for myself to have a future in Formula E. I know I’m a quick driver, but there’s more to Formula E than being quick, so only time will tell,” he says.  

New and different in Formula E for Jehan

2024 will be a step into the new and the unknown for Jehan. Apart from a new car altogether, he will compete against a relatively new set of drivers, race on new tracks and compete in a new format of qualifying. And of course, I quizzed Jehan about how different would ‘race management’ in Formula E be to the other series.

Jehan Daruvala Maserati

“The key in Formula E is to be able to manage everything during the races,” explains Jehan. 

He continues, “It sounds simple, but it isn't. Everyone has a certain amount of energy with which they need to start and end the race with. You need to get from start to finish as quickly as possible but also fight 10-15 cars in the process. The fun part will be fighting with other cars - sometimes going three or four abreast into one corner. But it’s also harder to manage energy in such racing situations. We’ve done a lot of work together behind the scenes, a lot of laps in the simulator - and we’ve done a lot of race simulations to get me up to speed as quickly as possible.”

Apart from being powered by an electric motor, the technology used in a Formula E car is different and far more evolved than what Jehan is used to. For starters, he would have more tools to play with in the car itself. “Formula E is a completely different environment to Formula 2 - the level of engineering, the amount of data the teams gather and the simulations we go through. It’s a lot more than what I have experienced in Formula 2 where we literally have nothing apart from brake bias to help us in the car,” explains Jehan.

A frank Jehan continues, “I’m super impressed with the amount of technology used in Formula E - the little adjustments and changes one can make while driving. This makes a huge difference to the balance of the car.”

Formula E’s revamped qualifying system is another change that Jehan will have to get used to. The all-electric series added a twist to their group-based knock-out qualifying format by introducing head-to-head duels between drivers. “Honestly, it’s a pretty good format. The main goal is to get through to the duels stage because then you are guaranteed a top-7 finish in qualifying. Frankly, it will be about thinking about the lap time in the moment before thinking far off ahead into the session,” explains Jehan.

The bigger challenge Jehan will face is the limited on-track time at each race event. Formula E has two Free Practice sessions of 30 mins each before Qualifying. “You don’t have that many push laps before Qualifying,” confesses Jehan while emphasising his work with MMR in the simulator to sort out his racing lines and references, “It’s super fun, and critical.”

Also Read: Formula E: Maserati MSG Racing Unveils New Livery for Season 10 Ahead of Valencia Pre-season Test

Hyderabad ePrix - History in the Making?

After nearly 14 years of racing, Jehan will finally have the chance to ‘race at home in India’ at next year’s Hyderabad ePrix. If this year’s race in Hyderabad is anything to go by, Jehan will definitely be the most-popular racing driver in the paddock. And remember, last year, Jehan wasn’t racing in Hyderabad. He was attending as Mahindra Racing’s test and reserve driver engaging with the fans and celebrities.

Understandably, the race that Jehan awaits the most is the Hyderabad ePrix. He is excited to race in front of his legion of fans, and given Maserati MSG Racing’s Gen3 package, we might finally have an Indian driver score World Championship points while racing at home…in India.

Tags: Formula E Jehan Daruvala Jehan Daruvala Interview Maserati MSG Racing

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