New Delhi: It has been a "crazy" fortnight for India's first GP3 race winner Arjun Maini but the promising teenager insists he still has a long way to go before he realises his Formula One dream.
The Spanish Grand Prix weekend earlier this month could not have gone better for Maini.
He stormed to victory in GP3, a support race to Formula One, three days after securing a development driver deal with American outfit Haas, making him the first Indian to be part of a F1 squad after Narain Karthikeyan and mentor Karun Chandhok.
"I would be lying if I say that it was all normal. It was pretty overwhelming to be in the F1 paddock, seeing drivers I look up to and then winning a GP3 race in their presence and have the national anthem played on podium," Maini told PTI from his UK-base in Milton Keynes.
The win in the sprint race of the GP3 series opener at Barcelona saw him move up to third in the drivers' standings.
The success not only did his confidence a world of good but also raised hopes that he could well be next Indian to compete in Formula One since Karthikeyan drove for HRT five years ago.
The other Indian getting closer to Formula One is Force India Academy drive is Jehan Daruvala, who is into his debut season in Formula 3.
However, Maini doesn't see Daruvala as competition. He says it will be "awesome" if they both represent India at the pinnacle of motorsport.
"There is no point of creating a rivalry between us. Jehan and I both have the same goal and we are both working towards getting there. And I also feel there is lot of needless pressure is put on Indian drivers who compete in Europe.
"No doubt that Europe is the place to be for aspiring racers because you are competing against the best. Having said that, Indian drivers are less in number but we are as good as the Europeans.
"It is just a mental block that we have that Indians need to work harder to earn respect. Even before I won my first GP3 race couple of weeks ago, I was well respected on the circuit," says Maini.
Like Daruvala, Maini too has made rapid strides ever since getting into single seater racing four seasons ago with the domestic JK Racing Championship. He moved to the UK in 2014 and did well in British Formula 4 before finding it tough in Formula 3 for the next couple of years.
It was only in the middle of the last season that Maini got a GP3 contract with Jenzer Motorsport after he was forced to abandon his Formula 3 programme.
"I had a tough time in Formula 3 for various reasons. But then GP3 happened at the right time. It is a lot more competitive than F3 and there is only one aim, that is to win the championship," says Maini, who would look to graduate to Formula 2 next year before he can stake a claim for a seat in Formula One.
Being with Haas during race weekends gives him exclusive access to world of Formula One but it is only performance that can get him a test drive with the American team.
"But I am not thinking much about the F1 drive at the moment. All my focus is on GP3. I still need to work on my speed in qualifying and if I am able to do that, I will do well in the main race and not just the sprint race."
Maini also can't thank Karun Chandhok enough for the role he has played in his fledgling career.
"I would not be where I am if it was not for Karun," adds Maini before signing off.
He is looking forward to mid-season testing in Budapest next month before the second round at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in July.
Updated Date: May 23, 2017 11:45 AM