Formula 1: How Arjun Maini went from talented rookie to Haas F1 Team’s development driver

Formula 1 and India have had limited success stories. In fact, the only success story that is worthy of being written about is that of Force India — the Indian-owned but Silverstone-based team that finished a career best 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship in 2016.

On the driver front, Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok remain the only two drivers who have been contracted with and raced in Formula 1. Haas F1 Team’s announcement of Arjun Maini’s appointment as their team’s development driver sees Maini’s name added to this list of illustrious Indians and offered much joy to the closely-knit Indian motorsport fraternity who have seen Maini scorch the tracks in Bangalore, Chennai and Coimbatore.

 Formula 1: How Arjun Maini went from talented rookie to Haas F1 Team’s development driver

Arjun Maini. Image courtesy: Haas F1 Team

In the world of Formula 1, there are race drivers, test or reserve drivers, junior drivers and even development drivers. In fact, there’s also the pay driver category recently brought back in the limelight by former Formula 1 driver, Pastor Maldonado. Maini’s ‘development driver’ status means that the Haas F1 Team is impressed by his talent and are willing to develop him for the next few seasons and help him progress to Formula 1. In Maini’s case, his father Gautam, a former single-seater racer himself (he raced in the FISSSME & LGB-class in India) and the elder brother of Chetan Maini (the brain behind the Reva, India’s first electric car), indicated that the Haas contract would be valid up till 2019.

For any driver working his way up to Formula 1, such support from a Formula 1 team is of immense value. Maini’s GP3 campaign in 2017 will be bolstered by valuable advice from the Haas F1 Team race engineers — an aspect that will help his racecraft as he aims to break into Formula 1 in the near future. In fact, this support could include simulator sessions and/or test days with the Haas F1 Team at Grand Prix weekends. There will definitely also be certain performance clauses for Maini to unlock such opportunities and could some of them be with Ferrari given the Haas-Ferrari association?

In Maini’s case, the Haas F1 Team would actually be the second such opportunity from a Formula 1 team in a span of five years. Cut to 2011/12, Maini was the winner of the much-touted and ambitious nation-wide driver training program launched by the Force India F1 Team to find their Indian Formula 1 driver. This program had budding racers (over 8,000 participants) from across cities in India compete in a single-make karting championship — in which Maini beat the competition in a series of closely fought battles to impress the panel of judges (included Lewis Hamilton’s father, Anthony Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg) at Force India. As the winner of this program, Maini was awarded a full scholarship to race in the 2012 British Karting Championship under the lens and guidance of the Force India team.

In fact, my co-host on the Firstpost Pole Position and the then Program Manager of Force India’s hunt, Kunal Shah, was present at Rowrah during the 2012 British Karting Championship where Maini won his first-ever ‘Best Rookie’ award at an international meet. Maini has progressed well since his karting days delivering credible results in every category he’s raced in — Toyota Racing Series, Formula BMW, BRDC Formula 4 and GP3.

Arjun Maini (centre) with Michael Knaggs and Kunal Shah (right) after the 2012 British Karting Championship in Rowrah. Image courtesy: Kunal Shah

Arjun Maini (centre) with Michael Knaggs and Kunal Shah (right) after Maini won the Best Rookie Award at the 2012 British Karting Championship in Rowrah. Image courtesy: Kunal Shah

Maini’s talent is backed by a stable support system off-track. His father is hands on with his son’s career (sponsorship, PR, etc.) and managing a successful business. In fact, there’s another Maini son (Arjun’s younger brother, Kush) waiting in the wings to climb up the ladder to Formula 1 (currently racing in Formula 4). Basically, racing is the family business of the Maini family! Advising the Maini’s in their single-seater career is fellow Indian, Karun Chandhok. In fact, Chandhok was instrumental in helping Maini sign up with Haas.

Another important cog in the system is Bangalore-based Dr Shree Advani, one of India’s leading sports psychologists, who has been working closely with Maini on the mental aspect of his game since his One from a Billion Hunt days. Kudos to Maini Sr for acknowledging the importance of psychology in his son’s game at this early stage in his career. “Arjun’s ability to detach from the negative and focus on what’s right, important and staying in the present has helped him evolve into a professional sportsperson over the years. I am most certain that Arjun has what it takes to compete at the highest level in the world of sport,” said Dr. Advani.

For the 19-year old Maini, after the PR rush subsides, it will be all to race for and prove himself worthy of this belief from Haas and deliver high-quality results. In 2016, his European F3 campaign was not the best and I hope it was more the ‘class’ of series and not the driver. His mid-season jump (in 2016) to the newer and faster GP3 series saw him score a podium and finish 10th in the standings overall despite missing the opening two rounds. The last GP3 driver to graduate to Formula 1 was Esteban Ocon (current Force India driver) and Maini would absolutely like to follow his footsteps.

Finally, for the Indian motorsport aficionados, Maini’s news could be the first of many to follow. I would expect Force India’s current junior driver Jehan Daruvala and Kush (Maini) to be graduating to Formula 1 in the near future. Let’s hope that fans and sponsors come out in support in what could be a historic period for Indian racers in Formula 1. The more, the merrier!

Maini’s GP3 season starts this weekend in Barcelona (12-13 May) and will be the support race for the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix. You can follow his progress on Twitter and Facebook.

(with inputs from Kunal Shah)

Updated Date: May 12, 2017 17:48:21 IST