Of mixed parentage, Neel grew up in the picturesque town of Biehl, Switzerland, watching Bollywood films and frequently visiting India to connect with his dad’s family.
“My favourite song when I was little was Papa Kehete Hain and my dad got it on an LP for me for my birthday,” he laughs.
So when did he first set his feet firmly on the gas pedal and decide to race his way to success? “My parents gave me a motorised go-kart at six which I would drive madly around the wooded gardens where we lived much to the bemusement of the neighbours. Soon, my racing became a weekend family outing and by twelve I was racing karts seriously,” he says.
At 16, Jani became the Swiss Formula Lista Champion, runner-up at the Formula Renault 2000 EuroCup and the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup. His first F1 test with Sauber-Petronas came before his 20th birthday.After a string of wins and successes, he is currently driving the world famous Le Mans Series and will potentially fill a seat in the FIA GT1 World Championship.
So what does it really take to make it big on the track? “ Besides a passion for speed and a mastery of the machine, you also need excellent concentration and high physical endurance.While racing, my heartbeat reaches 145 to 170 beats per minute and my whole body is subjected to high G forces which really taxes my neck and breathing muscles. So a tough daily workout with my trainer is a must,” he explains.
Having test driven for F1 teams, like Scuderia Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber, in the past, Neel has in fact beaten the likes of current F1 drivers Massa, Hamilton, Kubica, Kovaleinen and Sebastian Buemi. However, it’s not just the skills that get you the coveted F1 seat. “Talented racers also have to bring huge sponsorships to the table. It’s not easy when the figure runs into millions of dollars,” says Neel ruefully.
When he is not racing, Neel spends time relaxing with buddies, watching movies, skiing or mountain biking around the lovely Swiss countryside. “I am quite a foodie too. Raclette and Maharashtrian style prawn curry are high up on my list of favourite dishes, both of which, my mum makes beautifully,” he smiles.
With his sights set firmly on the pinnacle of motorsports achievements, Neel seems to have the right formula for success in his genes and personality – Indian determination and Swiss precision.