After three rounds and nine races of the ten-round, 30-race 2017 FIA Formula 3 European Championship, India's Jehan Daruvala lies tenth in the championship standings, trailing points leader Joel Eriksson by 99 points. The Sahara Force India Formula 1 Team Academy driver lies second among the five rookie drivers where he trails McLaren F1's development driver and Carlin teammate Lando Norris by 36 points.
A pole position and podium at the first race of the second round of the season at Monza stands as the highlight for the 18-year-old from Mumbai but regular top-five finishes and podiums have as yet eluded him. There is still a long way to go before the season concludes on 16 October in Germany. Daruvala is hoping to make progress among an extremely competitive field of junior drivers in a series that is considered vital for an aspiring professional racing driver's development.
We got in touch with the teenager as he took stock of the season so far and what he hopes to get out of it.
autoX: Did you feel you missed out on an opportunity to finish higher in the points standings of the Toyota Racing Series this year? Given that 13 of the 20 drivers were rookies, it was your second time competing and Lando (Norris) was not competing?
Daruvala: To be honest i was pretty happy with the way things went…I had a couple of non-finishes, which really hurts as you get 75 points for a win and that cost me a lot. At the end of the season I had nine out of ten podiums in feature races and was running second in one where I got taken out. I had the most poles - five out of ten - and also eight front row starts, which was the most for the season. So overall there were a lot of positives and the way the points work really affected the championship.
aX: How prepared do you think you went into this Formula 3 season in terms of knowing the tracks? Are F3 drivers allowed to test on their own between races during the season or do you practice in the simulator?
D: I was pretty well prepared going into the season. I did all the winter testing possible and also a lot of days in the simulator. I haven’t been to six tracks in the calendar in an F3 car - Monza, Pau, Spa, Hockenheim, Norisring, Nurburgring. Also we are not allowed to test an F3 car at any track. So there is no testing apart from the official days.
aX: In Silverstone when it was wet you said that the conditions did not suit you. Do you feel that you still have improvements to make when it comes to racing in wet weather or on a cold track with low grip?
D: Yes I still have improvements to make on wet and damp tracks but that will also come with more experience and time in the car as I was good in those conditions in karting. A cold track is no issue for me.
aX: Your podium in Race 1 at the Monza round is your only finish in the top five so far. Aside from the final race at Silverstone you have mostly been finishing near the tail of the top ten. Do you feel something is holding you back from being a regular top five or podium finisher or is this mostly due to events beyond your control?
D: At Monza In second qualifying I would have been on pole for Race 2 if not for traffic during the session. My lap was good till the last corner and there I got traffic so I aborted the lap. And because you have to have two good laps in Qualifying 2, it really put me out of position for the races. Instead of starting first and third, I started tenth and eighth. So that would make a huge difference. At Pau I was very quick in Qualifying 2. I was consistently in the top two until I crashed. Because I crashed early I only got in one lap and everyone improved after that. So the speed has been there and I’m confident I can consistently finish in the top five.
aX: Do you have a target in mind regarding when you would want to graduate to Formula 2 and what would you like to realistically accomplish during your time in Formula 3?
D: I have no plan of when I will graduate to F2 yet. In Formula 3 I would like to finish in the top five in the points standings.
aX: On a personal level, what sacrifices have you had to make as a teenager in your quest to make it to this level and what sacrifices do you feel you will need to keep making in order to keep advancing up the racing ladder?
D: I have made a lot of sacrifices as teenager. I decided to move to the UK and study there as it was the best thing for my career at that time. Also I have to compromise time with my friends and family because to get to the top I have to work hard and train well. I've given up eating a lot of food I like too which is essential for a racing driver.
aX: Do you have a driver coach with whom you practice? Or even a mind coach as many athletes choose to keep? Who is your go to for advice when you feel you are struggling?
D: Yes, my driver coach is Pieter Belmans, who helps me with everything when I’m at the track. I also have a mind coach, Don MacPherson, who I talk to about all my troubles and the mental challenge of the sport.
aX: Which of your parents do you feel pushes you more to pursue racing to the best of your abilities?
D: Both my parents are very supportive of me and, to be honest, they don’t really push me into anything. I push myself and they are there to always support me.
aX: Who keeps you the most grounded as you pursue a career in something that is far beyond the imagination and reach of so many regular people?
D: Im a grounded person myself. But my parents ensure I always stay how I am and not change as a person as I go up the racing ladder.
aX: If not for racing, what do you think you would have pursued as a profession?
D: If not racing, I would have probably pursued football or cricket. Im a huge fan of sports and its a major part of my life.