One made his car racing debut while the other took a big leap of faith – but both Jehan Daruvala and Arjun Maini have something tangible to build on for 2016.
Before one says anything about Jehan Daruvala’s debut season in car racing and Arjun Maini’s jump into European Formula 3’s top championship, one has to create a little bit of perspectivd. The two are just 17-years-old (Maini will be 18 before the year is out) and have taken steps in karting and junior formulae that those that came before them could not have thought possible. Neither Karun Chandhok or Narain Karthikeyan had any karting experience and the latter recalls how his first foray into racing in Europe left him counting the costs he would have to incur if he caused any damage to his car.
With backing from their families as well as those involved in motorsport, Daruvala and Maini were able to take their first steps in recognized series like Formula Renault 2.0 North European Cup (NEC) and the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, respectively.
They had their highs and lows and on closer inspection some positive results came with a caveat while the low points revealed lessons to be learned as well.
‘Force’ for India
In the case of Sahara Force India Formula 1 supported Daruvala, his race starts seemed to be a problem throughout the season and cost him against a strong field of drivers who didn’t hesitate to put pressure on him. The Mumbai native was also unable to put cross getting a win off his debut season checklist, coming close at the Nurburgring this year but losing out to another rookie, Max Defourny, who was the only driver out of the 13 other series debutants to finish higher in the points standings this year. Technically Defourny has a season of car racing under his belt, in Formula Renault 1.6 NEC, but is the same age as Daruvala. And to many outsiders and prospective talent spotters, it just comes down to the comparison between two drivers’ ages and their results.
Daruvala still has time on his side and is prepared to work on his weaknesses and will be going up a notch by competing in the more competitive Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup next year. His ties with Force India also help him get a fair bit of publicity and support although the nature of support he gets still puts a lot of onus on his own ability to stay active in racing. Something that should help him should there be the rumored change to the team’s name to Aston Martin Racing, and the resulting uncertainty that comes with it.
It is not something that Daruvala has to concern himself with too much as his focus would be more on preparing for the Eurocup along with getting test sessions like the one where he tested a far more powerful and agile Formula Renault 3.5 machine.
The matter with Maini
Daruvala’s FR 3.5 testing, however, is nothing like the leap into the unknown that Arjun Maini took when he decided to move straight from competing in BRDC F4 last year to FIA F3 this season. Formula 3 racing at the highest level once used to be considered last step before racing in Formula 1, before the waters were muddied by GP2, GP3 and a ton of other series. Even without the drastic example of Max Verstappen’s graduation from it to F1, there are enough that still believe that the highest level of F3 prepares a driver for the highest level unlike any junior series. Factors like finding the right car setup, creating a good equation with the engineers, testing etc. can make the difference between consistent top three finishes and the midfield.
While the latter was where Maini spent most of his time this year, it was not necessarily a true reflection of his potential. By his father, Gautam’s admission, racing with the Van Amersfoort team – where Verstappen had also raced – was an irreristible lure that made Maini go into F3 unprepared and without having tested, which left him unable to work well with engineers and impose his will enough to get his car set up the way he wanted.
At the final round of this year’s National Karting Championship in Maini’s hometown of Bengaluru, Gautam told autoX that he was trying to get his older son to not “beat himself up so much” and try to have things in the team as he liked. This ideal situation was a contrast to the way the team set both their cars to suit the driving style of one of their drivers, expecting Maini to emulate him.
It is an unrealistic expectation given how drivers need to be forceful but at such a tender age, there is still thankfully time to make amends and come back fighting. Fingers crossed for both drivers in 2016.