Jehan Daruvala Interview: 'Had the time of my life in F2, need to make a sensible decision for my future'

As India racer Jehan Daruvala gets ready to bid farewell to Formula 2, he speaks to Firstpost about his time in the championship, his future plans and his Formula 1 dream.

Kunal Shah September 28, 2022 14:08:58 IST
Jehan Daruvala Interview: 'Had the time of my life in F2, need to make a sensible decision for my future'

Jehan Daruvala is the first Indian to win a Formula 2 feature race. Image: James Gasperotti /Rayo Racing Media

If you are a junior driver looking for a big break in Formula 1, 2023 is your best chance. Six Formula 1 teams had/have at least one vacancy for the upcoming season — that’s more than 50% of the teams in the paddock.

The domino effect from Sebastian Vettel’s unexpected retirement and Mclaren’s expected release of Daniel Ricciardo has seen vacancies crop up at Alpine, Williams and AlphaTauri apart from Aston Martin & Mclaren. Haas is yet to decide on Mick Schumacher, too.

Despite this situation, the prospects for 2023 seem bleak for India’s Formula 1-hopeful Jehan Daruvala. In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Jehan Daruvala confirmed that he wasn’t in conversation with either of the teams with a vacancy for 2023. He admitted, “I needed to win the Formula 2 championship this year to race in Formula 1 with AlphaTauri in 2023 – and of course, I’ve failed to win. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to fight for the championship as I would’ve wanted to. But it is what it is, that’s racing.”

Last week, AlphaTauri announced an extension for Jehan’s former Formula 2 team-mate (Carlin, 2020), Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese driver will race for the Red Bull-funded team for a third consecutive season. One assumes that Red Bull Racing were waiting to see how their junior drivers perform in Formula 2 in 2022 before deciding on Tsunoda for 2023. A broad consensus is that Tsunoda didn’t set the track on fire but the lack of results for juniors in Formula 2 prompted Red Bull to go unchanged for next season.

Jehan offered more perspective on missing out on the AlphaTauri seat, “If (Felipe) Drugovich can win the Formula 2 title (in 2022) and still not go to Formula 1 (in 2023), I’m not going to Formula 1 finishing fifth*. Frankly, I have no idea what I am going to do in 2023. Formula 1 (a full-time race seat) isn’t on the cards next year so I am looking at other options.”

But even if Jehan might not be the third Indian to race in Formula 1, he is probably the most successful Indian in single-seaters.

(* the last round of the 2022 Formula 2 season will be held in November at Abu Dhabi so Jehan’s final classification in the Drivers’ Championship could change)

Formula 2 career

After finishing 3rd in the FIA Formula 3 Championship in 2019, Jehan graduated to Formula 2 in 2020. He spent the first two seasons with Carlin — registering 7th as his highest championship classification in 2021. For 2022, he switched to the reigning Teams’ Champions, Prema — also the team that clinched the last two Drivers’ Championships with Mick Schumacher (2020) and Oscar Piastri (2021).

Understandably, the expectations from Jehan for 2022 were to follow the steps of his predecessors. Helmut Marko, the Head of Red Bull’s junior driver program, reiterated each time I spoke to him that the target for Jehan in 2022 was to win the Formula 2 Championship. During one of our pre-season chats earlier this year, Jehan also confirmed that his sole target was to win the 2022 Formula 2 championship and be in Formula 1 in 2023 on merit.

However, with one round to go (Abu Dhabi), Jehan is 5th in the Drivers’ Championship with 126 points. Jehan explains, “Honestly, considering the pace we’ve had and bad luck through the year, I am still in the frame to fight for third in the championship and that is quite astonishing.”

Feature Race win in Monza

The Italian round at Monza (9-11 September) brought some fantastic news for Jehan as he put on his most-dominant performance ever. He scored a podium in the Sprint Race on Saturday and drove to his first-ever Feature Race win on Sunday.

Reliving the triumph, Jehan said, “I would probably say it was the most-happy racing day of my life! I’ve not celebrated a win as much in a long time. First, it was the feature race. Second, the struggles we’ve had through the season — and leading up to Monza. It was a really tough time in my racing career. So to score a podium and finish off the weekend with a win was fantastic. I was competitive all through the weekend and we deserved this result after a lot of bad luck through the season.”

The win wasn’t a straightforward one and Jehan explained further, “The race was a mix of fortunes and misfortunes. On lap 1, I had contact with (Jack) Doohan and my bargeboard was hanging off the car and flapping — and I had decided to pit for a change at the end of the lap, otherwise I was risking a black-orange flag. But when I went through Ascari, my bargeboard flew off thanks to the speed, and it wasn’t a hazard any more. So I got rid of the bargeboard but I had less downforce for the race.

“Then the Safety Car came out — and I made the call to pit. And soon, the race was Red Flagged — and that was good for me because I could re-attach my bargeboard. But then again post-race, I had to go see the Stewards for my incident with Doohan. For two hours post-race, I was a bit tense and memories of Austria came back to my mind (where he lost the race win due to a post-race penalty). For once, luck was on my side and I didn’t get a penalty for a lap 1 incident. It was a tense race and I was very happy to score the win.”

An ecstatic Jehan explained his post-race win celebrations, “On the in-lap, I’ve never waved to the crowd as much ever in my career — I think I had my whole hand out of the cockpit! As the commentator rightly said, I think I punched out the frustration of the entire season in that one race.

“Technically, I won the Feature Race in Austria before I got the penalty (for grid infringement) — but I still did win it on track. At Monza, even though I got lucky with the Safety Car, I won the race on merit. It meant a lot to win the Feature Race. It’s another box ticked in my Formula 2 career. I’ve had many podiums and race wins in Formula 2 and to finally win a Feature Race meant the world to me.”

Jehan now has the same number of wins (four) in Formula 2 as fellow Red Bull junior driver Liam Lawson (who participated in the FP1 session at the Belgium Grand Prix for AlphaTauri) and current Williams Formula 1 driver, Alexander Albon (also a Red Bull associated driver). In fact, Jehan has scored more wins than the 2020 Formula 2 Champion, Mick Schumacher.

Mid-season struggles

In the ten races between Silverstone and Monza, Jehan managed to score in only three of them, accumulating fifteen points along the way. Instead of holding third in the Drivers’ Championship and closing ground on the rivals ahead, Jehan began to lose ground to the drivers behind him. The mid-season slump saw him drop down to a lowly 9th place (pre-Monza).

Average points per round:

Pre-Silverstone: 11.42 points

Post-Silverstone: 3 points

The three most-costly rounds included a power loss in the Feature Race in Spain (fuel loss) while starting 4th on the grid. In Austria, Jehan won the Feature Race but received a 20-second post-race penalty because Prema attempted to dry the track surface at this grid slot before the race. And finally, a failure to even start the Sprint Race in Belgium owing to a fuel pump failure on his way to the grid. Inarguably, these errors were down to the team and not the driver.

Explaining the mid-season struggles in detail, Jehan said, “It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that was lacking. Frankly, we weren’t quick in qualifying. But that’s not always an issue in Formula 2 because in hour-long races, one can fight back. But our mid-season issue was our race pace. And in the first half of the season, race pace was my strength.

“At Silverstone, I was quickest in race pace (on average, across the field). From there, we went to become the slowest. Even though we lucked into a win in Austria, we didn’t have the pace there. Roberto (Merhi) jumped into a Campos for a weekend and he was quicker than me in the full race. At Budapest and other venues, we struggled even more. It wasn’t an easy time for any one of us.

“I’m in the third season in Formula 2 and have ample experience in tyre management — how much to push and when to push. But things were happening unexpectedly and I wasn’t in control anymore. It was definitely not easy because others could push more and keep tyres alive for much longer. Even when we were saving tyres, when we went to attack we could completely drop off and be out of our performance window.

“There wasn’t an issue with the car, per se. With the same setup as last year’s car, the behaviour in the data and the characteristics of what the car was doing on track wasn’t the same as last year. Now with a different setup we’re having the same characteristics as we experienced last year.”

The triple header that happened before Monza (Belgium-Netherlands-Italy) was where Jehan especially struggled — scoring just one point in the six races prior to Monza. He shared, “Mentally, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. I wasn’t happy with how I drove in Zandvoort. So it was nice to bounce back the next week in Monza. We did make a step forward in Zandvoort and Monza — but I couldn’t unlock it in Zandvoort. I was looking forward to Monza because it is one of my favourite tracks. In the week leading up to Monza, I thought to myself that if I am slow around Monza then something is definitely not right.

“In Monza, we showed pace in qualifying and the race. If not for the yellow flag in qualifying, I was in the frame for pole position. It gives me confidence that not only did we win, but we were fast.”

Are Prema-Jehan back?

Shares Jehan, “Prema is a champion team and made the most of the summer break to figure out what was wrong. We got to the bottom of our issues. It’s not a coincidence that we have found some pace.

“In Formula 2, it’s hard to pinpoint why we struggled mid-season. For example, we don’t know if the compound of tyres are the same as last year and small things can make a big difference. Prema had a fast car all of last year so when we go to tracks, it’s difficult to not use the same setup as the year before. But now we know what was wrong and we’re carrying that same offset throughout,” said Jehan.

Jehan sounded very upbeat for Abu Dhabi. “I believe that Prema has sorted out the issues. I’m not going to say that we’re going to be flying in Abu Dhabi but we will be competitive. The aim is to sign off the season with third in the Drivers’ Championship and as the highest-placed Red Bull junior driver,” said an excited Jehan, though admitting that a late-season surge in performances might not make much of a difference to grab a race seat in Formula 1 in 2023.

Final Formula 2 race

The weekend in Abu Dhabi will also be Jehan’s final one in Formula 2. Jehan has raced in a total of 72 races in Formula 2 ((excluding the final round in Abu Dhabi), securing four pole positions, fifteen podiums and four race wins.

Reflecting on his Formula 2 career, Jehan said, “I’ve had the time of my life driving race cars. I have no regrets because I have had all the opportunities in the world. I look forward to enjoying my last race weekend in Formula 2. I can fight for 3rd in the championship and I will go to Abu Dhabi the same way I approached Monza. I like the track and won there in 2020 (Sprint Race). I want to go out and have fun — and finish my Formula 2 career on a high. I only have a lot of fun when I am doing well — so that’s the goal for the weekend. I want to be strong throughout the three days — to start on the front row for the Feature Race and score a lot of points. In the end, if I finish 3rd in the championship, it’ll be a bonus!”

The future — Formula 1, Formula E, IndyCar, WEC?

The excitement for Abu Dhabi aside, there are key questions surrounding Jehan’s career next year — what series will he race in? Does he have any slim chance in Formula 1? Will he participate in an FP1 session with a team in 2022 or in the post-season young drivers’ test in Abu Dhabi?

Firstly, Jehan confirmed that he wouldn’t be participating in an FP1 session or the young drivers’ test this season. “I think circumstances haven’t favoured me this season. I feel I’ve had my strongest season as a driver but the results don’t speak for themselves. I would’ve loved to participate in a shoot-out with other prospects to push my case further. But I don’t want to keep waiting for Formula 1 and miss out on other good opportunities to further my Motorsport career.”

Jehan Daruvala Interview Had the time of my life in F2 need to make a sensible decision for my future

Jehan Daruvala palns to race in Formula E and IndyCar. Image credit: Mumbai Falcons

Expressing the challenge further, he said, “There are hundreds of us trying every year and probably one, if not anyone, makes it to Formula 1. I’ve kind of learned to accept it, but not fully accept it. I don’t want to give up on my dream of racing in Formula 1 but I have to be realistic. It’s definitely not been easy, but it’s the reality of being a racing car driver. I need to think more about my future of being a professional driver and earning my living from racing.

Jehan continued, “Formula E and IndyCar are two series I would definitely love to race in. In my view, Formula E has a very bright future. Right now, my priority is to race in single-seaters. If I could race in the WEC (World Endurance Championship) on the side, that would also be quite cool. It would be a new experience for me.”

Formula E has been a happy hunting ground for race drivers — current Formula 1 drivers Alexander Albon and Pierre Gasly (also former Red Bull junior drivers) explored Formula E briefly while waiting for a promotion to Formula 1. Nyck De Vries, the 2020-21 Formula E World Champion, is hot on the radar for at least two Formula 1 teams for 2023 (Williams and AlphaTauri).

For Indian Motorsport fans, Jehan and Mahindra Racing would be a dream union — an Indian driver racing for the Indian-owned team. Such a union would also make more sense given that Formula E’s Indian ePrix is scheduled to be hosted in Hyderabad in February 2023. However, Mahindra Racing has finalised their driver-line up for the 2022-23 season.

But there could be more options for Jehan: Jaguar Racing is another team with an Indian connection while Jehan has forged a relationship with Mclaren while testing their Formula 1 car this year. Mclaren will debut in Formula E in the upcoming season and have only one driver announced yet.

Formula E

Clarifying his interests further, Jehan explained, “Most Formula E teams already have their driver line-ups confirmed for next season. At the moment, I can’t reveal much but coming off a good weekend in Monza definitely helps in these talks. So whatever I do, it has to be a semi-futuristic plan. It could be that I join as a rookie with an option to race in the following season.

“Frankly, I’m not sure what 2023 holds. But Nyck De Vries (former Formula 2 and Formula E champion) is a good example. He was out of Formula 1 for a few years but a good debut race in Monza (with Williams) and he’s the driver in demand. The main goal is to be quick in whatever I race in next; that’s my only chance to make it to Formula 1. It’s not that I’ve given up on racing in Formula 1, just that realistically there’s no opening for me.

“A nice option for me to pursue in 2023 would be a reserve role in Formula 1 while racing in another single-seater series. Hopefully, there are good options for me — but I will know more in the next 2-3 weeks. It’s crunch time and I need to make a sensible decision for my future.”

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