Jehan Daruvala interview: 'Red Bull Junior team association a big opportunity in aim to get to Formula 1'

  • Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo are only some of the graduates of the Red Bull Junior Racing Team program who will race in the 2020 Formula 1 season

  • The technical exposure and advice coupled with a financial infusion from Red Bull was just what the Mumbai-born racer needed

  • This would be Jehan’s second association with a Formula 1 team. From 2011 till 2018, Jehan was the junior driver for the Force India Formula 1 Team

The country’s chances of cheering for an Indian racer in Formula 1 in the new decade got a shot in the arm after Jehan Daruvala announced a step up to Formula 2 in 2020 - taking him only one step away from Formula 1, the most-premier racing series in the world. Jehan also announced that he would be a part of the illustrious Red Bull Junior Team. Frankly, his Formula 2 move was to be expected, especially after he all but conquered Formula 3 in 2019. However, it is his association with Red Bull’s program that makes his story headline worthy!

What is the Red Bull Junior Team?

The Red Bull Junior Team is one of the most competitive training programs in the world of Motorsport. For a driver dreaming of racing in Formula 1, there’s probably no other program that offers a higher chance of promotion than this one. Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo are only some of the graduates of the program who will race in the 2020 Formula 1 season. Those who follow Formula 1 would know that the risks are as high as the rewards in this program.

"Jehan has proved his talent and speed in various junior categories. We are always looking for young drivers who have the talent to make it to Formula 1 internationally. 2020 will be a season where Jehan can and has to show in Formula 2 that he has the potential to make it to Formula 1. But as always in the Red Bull Junior Team, it is the performance that will decide how to proceed," Dr Helmut Marko told exclusively to Firstpost.

Marko, who runs the Red Bull Junior Team program, is a former Formula 1 driver and a highly successful talent scout. He is famously feared for his ‘perform or perish’ approach — one that has made and broken several drivers’ careers in Formula 1. For Jehan, an association with Red Bull is extremely positive news at this stage of his career. The technical exposure and advice coupled with a financial infusion from Red Bull were just what the Mumbai-born racer needed. In Jehan’s case, it would be normal to assume that Red Bull would be funding his season either partially or fully. Also, one hopes that the increased visibility of being a Red Bull athlete helps Jehan garner further corporate support. As India’s next best hope in Formula 1, the commerce of being a professional racing car driver is yet to be tapped into when it comes to Jehan.

Interest from multiple Formula 1 teams

 Jehan Daruvala interview: Red Bull Junior team association a big opportunity in aim to get to Formula 1

Jehan Daruvala will be part of the Red Bull Junior Racing Team while driving for Carlin in Formula 2. Twitter@DaruvalaJehan

In Formula 3 last year, Jehan was the only driver in the top-5 of the Drivers’ Championship to not have an active junior driver relationship with a Formula 1 team. However, it would have been strange for him to continue in a similar manner in Formula 2. After all, further progression to Formula 1 (in 2021 or later) would require either significant interest from a team or big bucks to go buy himself a seat - the latter approach not worthy of Jehan’s talent. As with Red Bull, most top teams in Formula 1 run junior driver programs. Given his championship challenge in Formula 3 last year, it wouldn't be a surprise if Jehan appeared on the radar of other teams, too. The structured approach plus the number of cockpits (four) available to Red Bull in Formula 1, Jehan’s choice in going with the energy drinks company is understandable. In fact, this would be Jehan’s second such association with a Formula 1 team. From 2011 till 2018, Jehan was the junior driver for the Vijay Mallya-owned Force India Formula 1 Team.

However, the build-up to the Jehan-Red Bull announcement wasn’t all rosy. In the last round of the Formula 3 season last year, Jehan was one of only two racers on the grid who were fighting for the Drivers’ Championship. Misfortune with his car meant that Jehan was forced to settle for third in the championship. After successfully battling against junior drivers from other Formula 1 teams would the eventual result hamper Jehan’s efforts in securing a competitive seat in 2020? In the off-season, further bad luck followed. Jehan picked up a knee injury while playing football and required surgery. Would he recover in time from the knee surgery for 2020?

In late January, I spoke with Jehan to inquire about his recovery and to find out how close he was to making an announcement. ‘Things are looking good, yes’ was his coy reply to my text. In the meanwhile, his former teammates from other series were busy making their announcements - one by one, the competitive seats in Formula 2 were getting confirmed. I thought to myself - will Jehan eventually run out of competitive options? Soon, it was almost certain that Carlin would be Jehan’s choice in 2020 - after all, Carlin was the most-competitive option out of the three seats available. The other two were with Trident, the team that finished last in 2019.

In this freewheeling chat for Firstpost, Jehan discusses his preparations for Formula 2, excitement about the Red Bull association, targets for 2020 and more.

Kunal: Upon hearing of your Red Bull announcement, the first thought in my head was - did Jehan receive the infamous early morning call from Dr. Helmut Marko, too?

Jehan: It wasn’t quite like that. I had a very good season in Formula 3 (last year) and it was noticed by him (Dr. Marko) and others in Red Bull Racing. We got in touch through a mutual contact and then he wanted to have a meeting with me in Sochi (Russia). So that’s how we met the first time. We spoke about various things but I obviously said that if an opportunity came up with Red Bull, I would grab it with both hands. That’s how it really came about. The reason it took so long to become official was because I had a knee injury and I had to see how the recovery went.

Kunal: So, the injury is all sorted now, right?

Jehan: Yeah, I am fully fit to go!

Kunal: You are graduating to Formula 2 - one step away from Formula 1. You’ve announced your association with Red Bull. What’s going through your mind right now?

Jehan: I am actually very, very excited. It’s a big opportunity in my career. My aim is to get to Formula 1 and now the platform is there for me. It is a big deal for me. I am one step away, I hope to have a very good season this year.

Kunal: Red Bull are known to take keen interest in developing their driver talent pool. You are now a member of this pool. In what ways will Red Bull be helping you prepare for 2020?

Jehan: I will be visiting the (Red Bull) simulator a lot this year to prepare for my Formula 2 races. Probably not so much for the Formula 1 stuff, because I can’t forget that my main focus for 2020 is Formula 2.

Kunal: Your debut season in the faster Formula 2 cars with the added pressure of being a Red Bull junior. How big do you think the challenge is going to be?

Jehan: The one aspect about Formula 2 that makes it the most difficult is the limited time to test. You basically have to do pre-season testing and turn up at the races and be good. It’s quite difficult in that perspective. It gives the experienced drivers a lot more of an advantage. But it also makes it exciting for us rookies to prove that we can come and deliver. In terms of preparations, I do as much as I can in the simulator, study on-board videos and go through data. We have our first pre-season test (1-3 March) so we will know where we are in those three days.

Kunal: Dr. Marko is known to be very target driven. The one question on everyone’s minds - what are the targets set by Red Bull for you in 2020?

Jehan: The target would be to finish in the top-3, but that’s my personal target. Red Bull has not set specific performance targets, but more to see if I am on the top of my game all the time. They are keen to track my progression through the season. If you have mechanical failures, etc. it’s easy to not be fighting for the championship. So it’s more to see if I am able to deliver when I have the chance to deliver.

Kunal: Can you shed some more light on your reuniting with Carlin in 2020?

Jehan: It was always a choice for me between Prema and Carlin. With Prema, I knew quite early last year that I wouldn’t get the seat - it was going to be Robert (Shwartzman) basis whoever was leading the (Formula 3) championship at one point in the season. I knew I wasn’t going to get the second seat knowing that Mick (Schumacher) had it. My mind was clearly at Carlin at that stage. It was a tough decision between the two teams.

Jehan Daruvala, Prema Racing. FIA Formula 3 Championship, Spa-Francorchamps, Francorchamps, Belgium. 31th August 2019.

Jehan Daruvala finished third in Formula 3 standings in 2019 while driving for Prema Racing. Twitter@DaruvalaJehan

Kunal: For 2020, Carlin is now an all-Red Bull junior team with you and Yuki Tsunado partnering with each other. Did your Red Bull deal require you to choose Carlin?

Jehan: No, Red Bull wasn’t involved in my team decision. In fact, I had already decided that I would with race Carlin (before initiating talks with Red Bull). The fact is that Carlin has been super-competitive in Formula 2. They were team champions in 2018. Also in 2019, they didn’t get the desired results they wanted, but the car seemed very competitive. I am quite confident that we can do well.

Kunal: Was partnering with another Red Bull junior race a requirement from Red Bull?

Jehan: I don’t really think so. I think it’s quite a coincidence that we are both in the same team.

Kunal: Let’s talk about your competition in Formula 2 this year - it is a grid mixed with newcomers like you and several other experienced drivers

Jehan: There are a lot of good competitors. I think my competitors from last year will be my competitors this year, too. My former (Formula 3) team-mates - Robert and Marcus (Armstrong). I also believe some of the more experienced drivers on the grid like Callum Ilott, Guanyu Zhao, Luca Ghiotto, Nobuharu Matsushita and Louis Deletraz.

Mick (Schumacher) is definitely going to be a big rival. He will be in his second year. I believe my team-mate (Yuki Tsunoda) will also be one to look out for - I expect him to be a surprise out of the box. He only did Formula 3 last year; he used to race in Japan (before that). He seems to be a really fast driver and Honda as well as Red Bull seem to believe in him. It will be a good battle between the two of us as well. There are a lot of drivers who already have a year or two in Formula 2. It’s going to be a competitive season and I am looking forward to the challenge.

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I’ve followed Jehan’s career for a decade - since his days of karting, his grooming in single-seater racing and finally his title assault in Formula 3. His rise up through the ranks leading to this coveted association Red Bull is further proof that ‘good things come to those who wait’. But Jehan’s not alone in this wait, he’s got the legion of Indian Motorsport fans cheering him on. “I hope the long wait was frankly worth it. I was eager to tell everyone, but you know how it is - you can’t say anything till it is all announced. Now I am glad I got it all off my chest. Fingers crossed that we all can enjoy a good season together,” signs off Jehan.

Note: Jehan raced with Carlin for two years in Formula 3. Carlin entered Formula 2 in 2018 and won the Teams’ Championship in their debut season, also the year current Mclaren driver Lando Norris (also Jehan’s racing friend) raced for them. In 2019, Carlin finished 4th in the Teams’ Championship.

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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2020 19:08:44 IST