Poised for a breakthrough

Having taken a big step towards Formula One, Arjun Maini is working hard to realise his big dream

Poised for a breakthrough
History has been beckoning this youngster right from his formative days but still, nothing can be as sweet as hitting the right path to realising a childhood ambition.

The teenager in question is Arjun Maini, a 19-year-old who has really caught the attention of the motorsport world with his performances on the GP3 circuit. So much so that he has been roped in as a development driver for the Haas Formula One team, alongside American Santino Ferrucci.

From the go-karting tracks of Bengaluru to the historic tracks in Europe, the boy who fuelled his adrenaline rush at the tender age of five could well go on to secure a position in an F1 cockpit.

Unusually grounded for a teenager his age, Arjun says that not much will change and that he will leave nothing to chance and continue to strive towards racing at the top level. He, however, does explain the experience of witnessing an F1 paddock was the stuff of dreams.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s hard to explain. When you walk from the GP3 paddock to the F1 paddock the difference in everything, the size, the glamour, it’s absolutely unbelievable. I’m not going to lie, it does feel a bit overwhelming initially, but when you get over it, the racing is still the same.

“You still go out there to win. Haas wants me to be completely focused on what I’m doing now and that’s the GP3 series and that’s what I’m going to do,” he adds.

Interactions with the technical staff in the pit garage will only enhance his skill and knowledge of the motorsport, something that is the key for longevity in the sport. And Arjun is making use of every opportunity he receives.

“I got signed just before my first weekend of the year. I was able to be in the garage during the session. Basically understand how the drivers work with the engineers and how the teams operate at the peak hours of motorsport. That’s what’s important about this role. That’s what I want to take with me, all the experience I can to prepare me for what could be in the future.”

Two days after he was signed by Haas, Arjun reached another milestone, becoming the first Indian ever to win a race on the GP3 circuit, no mean feat considering he had Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandok as predecessors.

A visibly emotional and teary-eyed Arjun had stood atop the podium as the Indian National anthem wafted across the Circuit de Barcelona in Catalunya. But the Bengaluru lad admits the predominant emotion he felt at the time was relief.

“I started from second and took the lead a little into the race. And then I had to battle with (Dorian) Boccolacci for two laps... I think the best laps of my career so far. The battle was so intense. I know it was very important for me to win but I did cherish that battle even though that could cause me to lose the lead.

“After that when I pulled away and crossed the flag the first feeling was relief. I was really relieved I had done that because that was very important for me. And then there were so many emotions that took over that it’s hard to explain the feeling, when you’re in the lap coming back to the pit,” he quipped.

While Karthikeyan and Chandok did not have the luxury of a step-by-step progression in the sport, it has been a lot more organised and has panned out better for Arjun, who believes that it gives him an  edge.

“I am extremely lucky to be in the position that I am in right now and really grateful for everything. I’ve had fabulous support from JK Tyre during my younger days and with Haas now. Family support has been absolutely incredible from the beginning and support from Karun as well. Everything is pointing in the right direction and I’m much more prepared than Karun and Narain were and hope I can cash in on it.”

Arjun’s foray into motorsport was an obvious one with his father Gautam Maini, a former National racer, providing the necessary encouragement for both his sons. His younger son Kush races in Formula 4.

“The main thing is the support from the family. My father, mother and brother are completely supportive of what I do. My brother being a driver, we push each other when we are training or when we spend time in the simulator. I think that way I’m in a very very privileged position and I’m really grateful for that,” he said adding that another guiding force has been Chandok, who is his mentor-cum-manger.

“He started guiding me pretty much from when I got into cars. He’s guided me all throughout. It’s very important that someone like Karun is guiding me, he’s been there and he’s made it. He knows what I need to do and what not to do. And that’s what’s great. It’s made it easier for me.”

India has a real dearth of good tracks in the country -- barring a few in Coimbatore, Sriperumbudur, Bengaluru and Hyderabad -- so a success story like Arjun’s may not be a constant occurrance. Apart from the tracks, Arjun believes that there is also a need for further exposure if India have to announce themselves on the big stage.

“There are definitely not enough tracks. When I was young we had the Speedzone track in Bangalore and I used to go there every Sunday to drive and that’s how to start. That’s how you fall in love with the sport. Not having enough racing space is a problem but it’s coming up.

“There is also the issue of lack of exposure. There are a lot more championships and there are a lot more karters that are there in the junior karting championships. A lot more people watch motorsports there. When I got into it I started off by watching Formula One. That’s what got me into my first go-kart. But the opportunity lower down is a lot less,” added Arjun, who is an ardent Sebastian Vettel admirer.

Having taken the first step towards what could be a fulfilling career, Arjun is keen to stay grounded and take one day at a time rather than set himself any long-term goals.

“I think I am just taking it as it comes, day by day. I’ve just started doing really well. We’re third in the championship in GP3 and that’s how we want to continue, be in the top three-four in the GP3 championship. That’s what I’m looking forward to this year,” he signed off.

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