In The Fast Lane: Indian Racer Jehan Daruvala’s Quest To Enter The World Of F1

“I’ve been a fan of speed, always,” he says. Jehan Daruvalastrolling into a bright, breezy living room of her fifth-floor apartment in the heart of Mumbai, overlooking a quiet, tree-lined street that drowns out the noise of traffic jams at a not-too-distant intersection.

Nothing about the perfect Dadar Parsi colony suggests that it was built with speed in mind.

The paths are wide and covered by a canopy of trees; the rows of handsome buildings, some old but sturdy, some new and elegant, are well spaced and surrounded by huge gardens. In a quiet cafe around the street corner, just off a chaotic roundabout, customers sip sugary milk tea and flip through newspapers. Near its entrance, a rusty Ambassador with an old license plate completes the charm of this picturesque town, totally removed from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.

Nothing, really, about the place screams “fast.”

From here, a 23-year-old racer has emerged who aspires not only to be the fastest Indian on wheels, but also to become the first from the country in a decade to make it to Formula One racing. ”, says Daruvala, “but everything is in my hands”.

Daruvala appears relaxed, as does his surroundings. We met on Valentine’s Day, his last day at home before flying first to Europe and then to Bahrain, where he competed in the season opener on Saturday, finishing second in the sprint, and will feature in the feature race on Sunday. .

Few sports are as ruthless and unforgiving as F1. But Formula 2, a rung lower and a springboard to the big leagues, is a different beast. “You are fighting for your own career, for yourself to go to F1,” Daruvala, who won two F2 races last season, he says. “Obviously there is respect for your teammate and your team, but yes, you are definitely more independent in F2.

Daruvala is a kind young man and this is a rare glimpse into the mind of cricketer Virat Kohli’s soft-spoken admirer. But once he puts on his driving suit, he transforms into a tough nutcase, who isn’t shy about showing off his killer instinct. “You have to have that to win,” he says.

Especially when the stakes are high, like the racing season ahead.

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a tan indian express A few months ago, the historian Ram Guha said that “all the good things in Bombay bear the name of Parsis”. Arguably they are also pioneers in sports. After all, they were the first in India to pick up a bat and ball, the first in the country to cycle around the world, and have also produced a multiple-time national swimming champion.

If he succeeds, Daruvala will not be the first Indian to compete in Formula One. Narain Karthikeyan broke that glass ceiling in 2005 and Karun Chandhok followed in his footsteps by breaking into F1 in 2010.

However, the simple challenge for an Indian racer to have the chance to fight for a seat in F1 and the many obstacles that come along the way make the search for Daruvala that much more intriguing. The last time an Indian raced in F1 was in 2012 when Karthikeyan entered the grid at the Brazilian GP. This is the closest anyone to the country has come since.

jehan I switched to cars (from kart racing) at 17-18 years old, while everyone moves at 14-15 years old (Credit: Prema Racing)

“Right now, there is no way to go to F1 just by racing in India,” says Daruvala. “I moved on to cars (from kart racing) at 17-18 years old, whereas everyone moves at 14-15 years old. So that’s definitely a factor. I started late, so I was late to the cars.”

Even his initiation into the sport was late by international standards. Daruvala says he saw F1 on TV when he was seven or eight years old; at that age, many drivers in countries with proper racing traditions are already driving karts. For Daruvala, even finding a place where he could go karting was a challenge.

When he first went to a private club in the central suburbs of Mumbai, accompanying his father Khurshed and older sister Delna when he was eight years old, “Jeh”, as he is called at home, even struggled to get into a go-kart. “He didn’t reach the pedals,” laughs Delna. “We had to put two or three cushions behind him so he could reach the pedals.”

Adds Khurshed, “From day one, Jehan loved it. He kept saying that he wanted to try it, but I wasn’t aware of a national championship or anything, until I saw an ad in a newspaper during a flight home from Delhi.”

The announcement was from one of India’s most renowned racing coaches, Rayomand Banajee, about a three-day training camp in Mumbai, where he would teach the basics of karting. Daruvala, nine years old at the time, was the youngest in that camp, which turned out to be his first step into the world of motorsports. Before long, he was spending his weekends racing in Kolhapur, home to one of the best karting tracks in India, and was soon beginning to dominate the national scene.

In 2011, he was one of three drivers (Tarun Reddy and Arjun Maini are the other two) to win a talent hunt organized by Force India, the country’s premier F1 team. He opened the doors to the UK driving scene, considered one of the greatest motoring nations.

“Jehan was flying to the UK on Wednesdays, we got special permission from his school to let him go, run there on the weekends and fly back to Mumbai early Monday morning,” says his mother Kainaz. “He studied in airports, on airplanes…”

As well as more frequent racing against quality opponents, trips to the UK exposed Daruvala to finer nuances of the sport under his trainer Tony Fullerton, a former world champion. karting champion.

Fullerton says he got all three Indian child seats with the Ricky Flynn Motorsport, but Daruvala, he adds, stood out. “The three guys were out of his league at first,” says Fullerton. “They got better as the year went on, but at the end of the year it was obvious that Jehan was the better of the three drivers, more complete.

Daruvala, he says, was calm and showed a willingness to learn. He taught him the techniques of racing in different weather conditions: in India, for example, hot weather conditions mean the tires would already be hot by the time the karts left the garage and hit the track. In the UK, he had to compete in extremely cold conditions, as well as in rain and hail: the power of visualization before a race and the art of identifying racing lines.

By now, Daruvala had moved his base to England, knowing that trips every weekend weren’t sustainable. “A lot of people have to make that sacrifice to go abroad, to the UK or Italy. You go there, especially at the beginning of your karting career, and you spend most of your life there.

The move was so bold that few could believe it. In the Formula 2 road race at Jeddah last season, Daruvala was involved in a fight in the middle of the grid with nothing special to show for it. Until the last corner of lap 16, when he held onto the inside line in a tight space and when the two cars in front of him, Oscar Piastri, now a reserve driver in F1, and Christian Lundgaard, opened up a bit, Daruvala Los He passed both of them at the same time and was gone in the blink of an eye.

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“Overtaking a car is difficult in racing, to be able to take two cars, and not two cars, Piastri and Lundgaard, both world class, that was definitely one of my best moves,” says Daruvala.

The commentator offhandedly called it one of the moves of the season, explaining the buzz around the young Indian, who seamlessly transitioned from karting to auto racing, though consistency remains an issue.

jehan F1 racer Jehan Daruwala in his recession in Mumbai. (Express photo by Pradip Das)

Last week there were murmurs in the paddocks, according to the BBC, that Daruvala was on the shortlist for the Haas F1 Team, which had sacked its Russian driver Nikita Mazepin following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Nothing concrete has come out yet, but Daruvala is aware that he will not have many more opportunities.

He stopped short of calling it a breakout season, but it’s come down to that. Formula One teams are not known for their patience, and it is believed that if a driver cannot secure a seat after three seasons in Formula 2, the chances for a future are diminished.

Daruvala says that everything is well set up for him to claim F1. As a member of the Red Bull junior team, he has the backing of a racing powerhouse. This season, he has joined one of the most successful teams in F2, Prema. The Italian team has produced three of the last five F2 champions, including Charles Leclerc, Michael Schumacher’s son Mick and 2021 winner Oscar Piastri; all of whom have graduated to the higher level.

Seats for next year’s Formula One season are likely to be finalized between August and September. For Daruvala, that means it’s crucial to start the season strong. “I want to win the championship, that is the main goal. I’m not going to think about it 24×7. Right now my focus is round 1 and round 2. Check those two boxes and hopefully I’ll get off to a good start. I have one year to act, one year to deliver results,” he says.

And a year to take the crucial final step.

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