I still hope to go to F1 in 2023: Jehan Daruvala

Tackling a professional predicament with an existential sincerity: Jehan Daruvala's story

India’s Jehan Daruvala, currently driving in F2, is finding it hard to climb the next step - Formula One

Jehan Daruvala. Credit: DH Photo

You would think driving at over 300 kmph is the perfect recipe to induce existential pondering. Turns out, fear of irrelevance ranks above, even in Formula drivers.

Racing drivers are every bit as emotionally fragile as us. Unlike us though, they are not allowed to be naive to it. They wear this vulnerability with grace and embrace every moment as if their last. 

Jehan Daruvala turned 23 years old 10 days ago. On the eve of his birthday, India’s next big Formula One hope, said: “… there is no seat next season so the 2023 season is my last chance. If that doesn’t happen, it’s time to move on.”

The admission does not mean Jehan is done dreaming of becoming only the third Formula One driver from India. He is every bit as in-the-clouds as the next teen/man on the grid, but he has his feet planted for the dog-eat-dog world of single-seater racing that weans one off of unrealistic expectations.  

Excerpts:

You are seventh with your team-mates on either side of you on the points table, is this a position, at least in terms of extending your stay in the Red Bull Academy, good? Also, do you prefer street circuits to open circuits?

Daruvala: I would not say I like the position I am in. The goal was to fight for the championship, be third or fourth but obviously, I am not quite there. I am close but not there. In terms of street and normal layouts, you do focus a lot on both, but street circuits, like Monte Carlo and Baku, you almost have no time to relax. You are constantly in the zone, you do not really see anything apart from barriers coming close to you. It is a surreal experience. It is something I really enjoy. Driving an F2 car to the limit so close to walls is something that you do not experience too often.

How do you assess a track when it’s raining? For example in Sochi

Daruvala: In F2, the tricky part is where you start on the outlanes and grids. You do not have any tire warmers in F2, we have to get our slicks up to temperature with them being literally stone cold on a damp track. Those things are tricky, you almost do not get to full-throttle on the entire out-lap. That is how much power there is and less grip there is. Hence, they have the safety car start for the safety of the drivers. After that, there is one line that is damp and to move forward in those conditions is tricky. My race was going well (in Sochi), I was taking quite a few risks, I had a couple of warnings earlier. I really wanted that podium. We knew there was not going to be a Sprint Race 2. I did everything I could do to get on the podium. Unluckily for me, I hit the damp patch and spun.

How much of your racing in F2 is intuition and how much is muscle memory?

Daruvala: I think there is some muscle memory but a lot of it is intuition. In F2 especially, there is not a lot of muscle memory. We are normally first out on track on a weekend. The tyres do not last through free practice. On the first lap, you are completely out of your comfort zone. You are pushing the car as fast as you can on cold tyres. You basically have two laps to get the tyres going. You then get softer tyres to push on, the track ramps up a couple of seconds. You have only 1-2 laps to perform. It is not a lot of muscle memory for us. It is mostly intuition. Feeling the grip on the out-lap and really optimising and pushing.

Sticking with the rain, are there many set-up changes you can make once it has started racing?

Daruvala: When you come to the circuit, you have a set-up that is pre-planned. Sort of done at the factory. When you hit the circuit, you hit the ground running, you hope your competitor is behind. There is not much you can do once the weekend comes around. Literally no testing, after free practice, you get to qualifying. It is more about fine-tuning the car balance. You do not tend to do too much from practice to qualifying. The track changes so much that you are not really sure what the balance of the car is going to be. There are more changes that happen in qualifying between the first set and the second set. Front wing, real roll bar… not too much set-up changes when you hit the weekend.

Is there pressure on you now that every season is make-or-break? Mostly because the drivers in F1 are much younger and there are not too many openings?

Daruvala: Not really. There are people younger than me but they also started six years before I did. I am not panicking about how old I am. I just turned 23 so that is really young still. I still have very realistic hopes of going to F1. Not next year for sure but in 2023. I guess that would be my last and only shot of going to F1. If not, I have to look at pursuing my career in motorsport somewhere else.

Is it hard to maintain relationships in Formula racing because there is so much at stake?

Daruvala: It depends. The way I am born and brought up, I get along with a lot of people. I try and respect everyone and I earn their respect. I think it is obviously harder in racing to have a lot of friends. You are competing in a sport where everyone is competing for a few slots. It is all about finding the right balance. I do have a few close mates in F2, including both the red bull juniors. We are all on the same boat. We are all trying to get to F1. We are also competing with each other but we are also there to talk to each other. It is all about finding the right balance between competition and having that self-respect for oneself.

Does the fact that you are readily dispensable to a team affect you?

Daruvala: I think it does. It is difficult but at the same time, so far in my career, I have been competitive in the front. I have been able to drive in the front and retain my seat in these top teams. They see that potential in me, and I have not had a situation where they have said they do not need my services. We have had healthy discussions and healthy talks about do I want to carry on, move to another team and fight for the title with that team. It is hard, I know of people who have had their team tell them that they do not want to continue with them, but that is part of racing. Even in formula 1. It is a tricky business. One day you are the hero and the next day you are gone. That is the business of racing.

(The interaction was organised by Eurosport )