Taking the tough path

Motor sport

Jehan Daruvala acknowledges the support of erstwhile Formule One team, Force India, for his growth as a competitive driver.

The road to a seat in Formula 1 is tough, particularly for Indians. Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok got there the hard way. It was never easy for them to enter F1 because India did not have a modern and solid domestic racing programme for gradual upward steps before racing in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Things are better now but nowhere near what’s required to hone skills for F1. To be competitive and race against the best in the world, many drivers prefer to race in Europe. A case in point is Jehan Daruvala, who is currently racing for Prema Racing in the FIA Formula 3 Championship.

Mumbai native Daruvala was the winner of the ‘One from a Billion Hunt’ conducted by the erstwhile Force India Formula 1 Team. He was supported by no-defunct Force India during the early years.

Right now, he is in striking distance of the title. The 20-year-old finished sixth (in 2017) and 10th (in 2018) in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. He has built on that experience and is currently third in the standings, 20 points adrift of the leader and team-mate Robert Shwartzman (124 points). Daruvala has bagged two wins, a total of five podium places and two fastest laps. The wins came in the first and second rounds in Spain and France respectively.

There are six races from three rounds coming up. “Anyone in the top four or five has a shot at the championship now. I feel very confident that if there is no bad luck, I am fast enough to challenge for the title,” he said.

It was not great news in the last round in Hungary, where he finished 11th and seventh in two races of the weekend. This was a setback but Daruvala is still in contention for the title in a highly competitive grid.

Daruvala has sacrificed a lot and worked hard to get here.

“The way to succeed is burning desire and sacrifice. I remember, as a 10-year-old, telling my dad that I want a career in racing. At 12, I realised that the only way is to move to the UK and hone my karting skills in Europe,” he said.

“I shifted to a boarding school in the UK. That was a huge sacrifice for me as I love my home, family and friends. But I had to do this to realise my dream. It has been eight years of missing everything at home, but it has helped me achieve my goals,” he added.

Of course, he got a good boost from Force India initially. “In my formative years, Force India’s support was extremely important. If it were not for them, I would not have shifted to Europe in 2012 and that would have been a big mistake,” he observed, adding that karting with Ricky Flynn Motorsport and getting advice from expert driver coach Terry Fullerton were invaluable.

“Three years in British and European karting helped me develop as a driver and person. Once I moved to single seaters, Force India’s support was more advisory in nature,” he said.

No setback

Daruvala does not believe that the sale of Force India was a big setback. “In F1, there is so much at stake that unless you are a very talented driver and competitive with the best in the world, you are not going to get a drive.

“So, irrespective of the ownership, this would have been the reality. My focus is to continuously keep developing and be competitive. If I manage to do that, opportunities will come,” he felt.

Prema Racing is buzzing with activity this season and three drivers from the team are in the top four of the driver championship standings -- Russian Shwartzman is leading, Daruvala is third and New Zealander Marcus Armstrong is fourth.

“All three of us have been very close through summer testing and championship. I would much rather have it this way because we are all learning so much from each other. We openly share data so that it helps all of us improve versus the rest of the field,” said Daruvala, who also lauded the team for its support and a family-like environment.

His first coach and former racer Rayomand Banajee said: “Jehan is up there with the best in the world and he has consistently proved this. It is crucial that he gets into a good team in F2, which will enable him to continue with good results. I am confident that he has the ability to get into F1 on merit.”

 

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