Arjun Maini and Jehan Daruvala’s campaigns in major junior racing series are underway.
It is perhaps a sign of how far Indian motorsport has come that both the age and expectations around the careers of drivers starting their career in top line single seat racing has come down substantially as compared to 20 years ago.
Back when both Narain Karthikeyan and then Karun Chandhok made their debuts in European based series and championships that were considered the stepping stones to Formula 1, they had no experience in karting and were in their twenties as well.
That remained the case with drivers like Aditya Patel and Armaan Ebrahim too. But that is not the case with Jehan Daruvala and Arjun Maini, the new kids on the European block.
Both are currently 16-years-old and have had some level of preparation before tackling some of the best young racers in Europe in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and FIA European Formula 3 Championship, respectively.
Daruvala - a driver supported by Sahara Force India F1 – had a phenomenal year of karting last year, by any standard. Not only was he placed third in the CIK-FIA World Championship for KF1 level karts, he was also placed second in the super competitive German Kart Championship’s KF1 category. An impressive feat given that this was the same championship that has been the proving ground for stars like Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel before they graduated to car racing.
Maini – a driver supported quite enthusiastically by JK Tyre – missed the British Formula 4 crown by a whisker last year before graduating to European F3. It is considered the championship that any driver serious about racing in F1 needs to do before thinking about series like GP2 or even Formula Renault 3.5 World Series. And among the list of its illustrious champions and participants are Lewis Hamilton and Vettel; who are currently considered as the gold standard drivers in F1 along with Fernando Alonso.
Praise and expectations have been heaped on both but not as liberally as they were on Karthikeyan and Chandhok, both of whom had to face the realities of sub-standard infrastructure at the domestic level as well as the difficulty of drivers from this part of the world to find sponsorship. After all, passion only gets you so far before reality steps in.
Just as aware of that this time around are the Indian media – be it mainstream or specialist - who are waiting to hail a world champion of their own. It’s less a case of lowered expectations and more of a ‘let’s wait and see’ attitude.
And while the development in motorsport infrastructure in India has been minimal in that time – and yet the political bickering embarrasingly high – drivers like Daruvala and Maini have the added advantage of a well informed and enthusiastic support structure at home. With that support comes financial help of course but there is no blank cheque waiting for them at home. Even with all this help, it comes down to their results at the end of the day.