How Jehan Daruvala Plans To Get His Foot In F1’s Door
Jehan Daruvala, India’s most-promising F1 hopeful, will start his third season in Formula 2 in 2022; it will also be his third season as a Red Bull Formula 1 junior. In this interview, he speaks about his extension with Red Bull, Helmut Marko’s influence on his racing mindset and how he plans to get a foot in the door in Formula 1.
An eventual seat in F1 has been the ultimate goal through Daruvala’s entire racing journey. However, the road to F1 isn’t easy – and the Indian driver has various smaller goals to achieve before he can prepare for a future in F1.
Red Bull renewing his contract as a junior driver for 2022 was a step in the right direction. As the notoriously hard-to-please Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport advisor and head of its driver development programme, shared with this writer: “Jehan’s improvements towards the end of the 2021 Formula 2 season was the key criteria behind us renewing our partnership for 2022.”
Daruvala’s target for 2022 is clear: “My sole target is to win the 2022 Formula 2 championship. I want to be in Formula 1 in 2023, and I want to win my seat on merit.”
Signing with Prema for 2022 gives Daruvala the chance to race for F2’s most dominant team in recent times. Since the team joined the grand prix support series (then known as GP2) in 2016, it has taken four of a possible six drivers’ titles with Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri.
Daruvala knows he has to make this season count – all the more so because, as recently as October, he wasn’t even sure if he was going to continue in F2.
“I thought I would take a break this year,” he admitted. “So to be in Formula 2 with Prema and with Red Bull is a great opportunity.”
Daruvala’s performance in 2021 was a step up from his rookie F2 season in 2020, as he finished seventh in the drivers’ championship with two race wins and five podiums. However, he couldn’t achieve his goal of finishing in the top five in the championship.
Furthermore, for the second successive season he was beaten by his teammate – Dan Ticktum – and was narrowly beaten to the honour of top Red Bull junior driver in the standings by Juri Vips.
However, what these statistics don’t capture is the upturn in form that Daruvala enjoyed towards the end of the season – the very shift that encouraged Marko and Red Bull to renew their partnership with him. So what brought about his late-season improvement?
Introducing our class of ’22! 🎓
— Formula 2 (@Formula2) March 17, 2022
“The main thing was that I became a lot more aggressive and a lot clearer on how I wanted to approach my racing,” said Daruvala. “I went from being more on the defensive side to being a bit ‘loose’. I wanted to show my rivals that when I am behind them, they need to worry a bit – that I could pull off some bold moves.
“I think having this kind of reputation helps a bit, and it did in the last few races. Because when you start going for a gap, people know you are coming through and they leave space.
“There are a couple of drivers who have such a reputation – when they are behind me, I am a bit worried. So I wanted to have such a reputation as well – and put it out there. That’s the key part of my aggressive approach in 2021 and will push me forward into 2022.”
The origin of Daruvala’s new approach came from Marko himself. “Dr. Marko was pushing me a lot to change my racing style – be a lot more aggressive and care-free,” he revealed. “I think that’s more like the Red Bull approach.”
Of course, Daruvala’s change in mentality begs the question of why he started 2021 with a defensive mindset in the first place. Daruvala confessed candidly: “My defensive mindset was more for the Sprints because of how the format was. If you finished eighth in the first Sprint there was no advantage to finish seventh because you would start the next race one position further back.
“So it was always about maintaining position in this race and scoring the points in the next race. But from 2022, the format change helps – all drivers will be attacking in both races.”
The 2022 Season starts here!
— PREMA (@PREMA_Team) March 16, 2022
The 2021 F2 season had an unusual calendar as part of the move towards alternating on the Formula 1 support bill with sister series F3. There were eight rounds spread over 10 months from March to December, with many observers complaining that the gap between some rounds was too long.
Daruvala admits that he “didn’t like it at all – to have that much time off. At times, we didn’t drive for two whole months. I felt that I could do something else in life and still do a full season!”
But, one effect of the spread-out calendar was that Daruvala had a lot of down-time in the mid-season. He used that to consume content on how top sportspeople think, citing an interview that Indian cricketer Virat Kohli gave as a particular moment of inspiration.
“The moments we experience during competitive sport are very big, but the key focus is on how to convert them,” he reflected. “And then of course, the main thing is to have fun.”
After two seasons with Carlin in F2, Daruvala will race with Prema in 2022. Incidentally, this was also the path Daruvala followed when he raced in Formula 3 – two seasons with Carlin in European F3 before a switch to Prema in the newly-created FIA Formula 3 championship in 2019.
“There are only three, four good teams in Formula 2 and I wanted to continue in the series only if I got a chance to race for one of them,” says Daruvala of his switch to Prema.
“In Formula 2, Carlin is a strong team but if I stayed there for a third season, I would have the same knowledge that I gained in the first two seasons. Even if the car is the same at Prema as it is at Carlin, I look forward to the new philosophies, thoughts and approach to a Formula 2 season.
Finally arrived in Bahrain for the pre-season test 😀✅
It’s back to business on Wednesday. Can’t wait! pic.twitter.com/9MggASYnNQ
— Jehan Daruvala (@DaruvalaJehan) February 28, 2022
“For example, the approach to tyre management in a race is different at Prema than we had at Carlin, as is the approach to brakes and bringing them in the working range and so on. I will look forward to combining the two – what I learned at Carlin and what I will learn at Prema.”
Daruvala admits that he can’t afford another season of two halves like his 2021 campaign, or even his rookie season. “This has to change in 2022 if I am to challenge for the title,” he admits. “2022 is a make or break year for me and it will be about how I handle it from the start of the season.
“I think the main thing for me is to start 2022 with the same mindset I ended 2021 with. I also know that if I want to drive a Formula 1 car towards the end of this year or in a Free Practice session or even in 2023, I need to take a step up in my fitness.”
Norwegian driver Dennis Hauger, a fellow Red Bull junior and last year’s F3 champion, has been announced as Daruvala’s teammate at Prema for 2022. And Daruvala is aware that some of the fiercest competition for the title could well come from within his own team.
“Clearly, you cannot underestimate the rookies nowadays after seeing how Oscar [Piastri] was in his rookie season,” he says. “It shows that the champions of Formula 3 are fast enough and ready for Formula 2 in their first season.
“Even at the post-season test in 2021 [at Abu Dhabi], Dennis was pretty good. I know that he’s super-fast and I look forward to having him as a teammate in 2022.”
As well as Daruvala and Hauger, Vips, Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa will all be flying the Red Bull colours in 2022, creating fierce competition within the stable for any F1 opportunities that should arise.
“They [F1 teams] have to give a couple of Free Practice sessions in the 2022 season to rookies, so if my season goes well, I don’t see why I wouldn’t get a Free Practice session to participate in,” says Daruvala.
Seat fit for @DaruvalaJehan ✅
— PREMA (@PREMA_Team) February 16, 2022
“But to be honest, a mid-season Free Practice session isn’t on my mind. I want to be in Formula 1 in 2023; I think four or five of us will be fighting for one seat and I want to win my seat on merit.”
Given the cut-throat nature of the Red Bull programme, and the fact the Austrian firm already has five of its drivers on the F1 grid, there are no guarantees that success in F2 will translate into a move to the highest tier. You only need to ask last year’s champion Piastri for proof of that.
So, we are keen to ask what Daruvala’s plans are if he isn’t able to get a foothold in grand prix racing: “My goal is to be a professional racing car driver and my immediate future is in single-seater racing. I think Formula E would probably interest me the most, apart from Formula 1 – it is the best single-seater series after Formula 1. There are some very good drivers there – and a lot of them probably deserve to be in Formula 1.
“So that could be an option for me in the future, but that isn’t something I am thinking about right now. Like I said, Formula 1 is my main goal and for the next six, seven months that’s the only thing I will be thinking about.”
Reiterating his goals for the upcoming season, Daruvala concluded: “I am in the best team, I am a part of the Red Bull junior programme – I have the best tools to perform. I won’t put extra pressure on myself but I believe I can win. I will work really hard with Prema – we achieved great things in 2019 [in F3]. I have a super relationship with them and I want to take it even further in 2022.”