Jehan Daruvala F2 2021: Race Starts, Key Improvements & Targets

Jehan Daruvala talks about race starts, key improvements and targets for F2 2021 season (courtesy: Red Bull Content Pool)
Considered India’s best hope to have a driver race in Formula 1 in this decade, Jehan Daruvala’s F2 2021 season will be with Carlin. In this exclusive interview, he talks about his race starts, key improvements and targets for 2021 and more. 

“I’m ready for Formula 1 and I look forward to proving myself in Formula 2 before I expect a promotion,” declared Jehan Daruvala, India’s best hope to have a driver race in Formula 1 in this decade.

Earlier in the year, the Mumbai-born racer had confirmed that he would race in Formula 2 with Carlin for the second year in succession. Crucially, Red Bull also announced an extension of their support for Jehan’s career making him one of three Red Bull Junior Drivers to race in the series — Liam Lawson and Juri Vips being the other two.

Most important season of his career

It is without a doubt that 2021 will be the most-crucial season of Jehan’s career. His performance through the season and being engaged in the title battle will bring him closer to realising his dream of racing in Formula 1. Of course, there are no guarantees in the world of Motorsport, but being a Red Bull Junior Driver gives him a good shot if he does prove his abilities.

“Jehan needs to win the championship in 2021,” said an astute and often-direct Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s Motorsport Advisor and head of the driver development program, when quizzed by Firstpost about the key factor that would be used to assess Jehan’s second season in F2.

“It’s a target in my mind as well. All of us are very talented, we all want to win — that’s my goal. In the end, if I finish in the top-3, I will be very pleased. My aim is to be as consistent as possible and win the title,” expressed a confident Jehan.

The pre-season

“After the end of last season, it was nice to be home in December-January and spend time with my family. I’m facing one of the most-crucial seasons of my career and I think the pre-season break helped. It was good to be in Mumbai and not thinking about racing at all. In February, I had my Asian F3 commitments and then a fortnight later, I was in the F2 car in Bahrain for my pre-season test,” said Jehan.

In the Asian F3 Championship, Jehan was inarguably the star attraction. After leading the championship in the early stages, he had to be content with a third place finish — a result that bagged him 12 superlicense points that would come handy when a promotion to Formula 1 comes his way.

“For me, the Asian F3 experience was very valuable. From the end of last season (December), we don’t really get to drive a racing car till we get to pre-season testing (in March). So even though the F3 car is slower and not as representative as F2, to do 15 race starts, 15 first laps and to push any car you’re driving to the limit in the qualifying session is always beneficial. It’s not something we get to do very often. In 2021, we will have only 8 races (in F2). So to be able to race the Asian F3 car was good practice and fun for me,” explained Jehan.

Coincidentally, ‘number 3’ stuck with Jehan through the Asian F3 Championship. Apart from finishing third in the championship, he scored three pole positions, fastest laps and race wins in the series. But how content was Jehan with his performance?

“I think I did a pretty good job. Apart from one round in Dubai — where I stalled in one of the races and had an incident in another. Because there were only a bunch of us fighting at the front, to have one stall and one DNF meant throwing away 40-50 points and it gets difficult to recover from there. (Guanyu) Zhou won the same number of races as I did but he didn’t have any bad races. He got continuous podiums and won it in the end,” analysed Jehan.

F2 Testing

The series hosted their official pre-season test from 8-10 March at the Bahrain International Circuit, the venue at which Jehan won the sprint race last season. Explaining his pre-season test, Jehan said, “Our car (Carlin) is usually strong in Bahrain, so we didn’t focus too much on optimising lap times. We did our qualifying runs when the conditions were more representative of the race weekend — like doing our runs in the afternoon than the early mornings. We focussed on our race runs as was planned.”

He continued, “For 2021, the hard and medium tyre will be a step harder this year and we spent time understanding thermal degradation. Of course, we didn’t get to run the medium tyre so we focussed on the hard and soft compounds. In 2020, the difference between the hard and soft was 5-6 tenths but in pre-season testing we saw that the gap was as large as 1.5 seconds. I think the larger gap between compounds could be good. At the moment, no one knows how it will play out on an actual race weekend. However, I expect drivers on alternate strategies to have a bigger delta in comparison to last year”

Key improvement for 2021

Dr Marko emphasised ‘better starts’ as the key improvement for Jehan in 2021. Unsurprisingly, it was something Jehan agreed with completely.

After struggling with engine issues for a majority of last season, Jehan made a stark improvement in his starts by the end of the season.

How is Jehan preparing to make better starts to his races this season?

He divulged, “In the final afternoon of the pre-season test, we went through the start procedure and practice starts. All in all, we went through all we had to. Also, there’s not too much one can do apart from doing the actual thing. It’s hard to practice in the simulator because it’s harder to simulate the effect of the turbo, for example. At the end of last year, my starts were really good and it’s not something I am thinking about right now. I’m treating it as normal procedure. The bigger difference is that last year I was worried about my starts and this year it’s not something I am worried about.”

The other aspect Dr Marko told Jehan to focus on was to drive around issues, if they come. Reveals Jehan, “One can’t always have a clean championship, so it’s about getting the best out of myself at all times.”

In preparation for this interview, I invited fan questions via Twitter and the one common question that stood out was about ‘race craft’ and how Jehan was working on it in the off-season.

“The main thing from last year was to improve my race craft and I took it a step further by the end of last year. So I will continue to work on that this season as well,” explained Jehan.

“Typically, one can look at old races and videos from the previous seasons and analyse. There’s plenty of videos on YouTube that one can go through. The analysis would be around car positioning on lap one, when to attack and what not to and so on. I do this analysis on my own. I’ve spent enough years in Motorsport to learn and understand by looking at my videos from the previous seasons.”

Mental focus and routines

The importance of mental coaching in sport is well known. Jehan works closely with a mind coach who is associated with several Red Bull athletes.

“With him, I can talk, discuss and work on mental preparations for the season. As for a pre-race routine, I tried one at the end of last season and it seemed to work so I will be sticking to that,” says Jehan.

“My routine involves not being around the noise of the paddock for about an hour before the action would start. I would relax on the massage couch with some headphones on and hear music to space out. I’m not a big fan of music, I sometimes stream the radio.” He then cheekily admitted that sometimes if the noise cancellation is good, he could even be listening to nothing!

The Dan Ticktum factor

For 2021, Jehan’s team-mate at Carlin will be Dan Ticktum, a talented British driver who has made headlines in the recent past for his off-track outbursts.

“When I won the British Karting Championship (2013), Dan was my team-mate and he came second. I have a good relationship and on a personal level we get along well. I’ve not been his team-mate since our days of karting together. It’s fairly simple with him — we’re each for our own and we don’t necessarily have to help each other out apart from exchanging our data. I think he’s a talented and fast driver and he will be one of the contenders this season,” shared Jehan.

For Jehan, Ticktum will be a good competitive benchmark. He was a former Red Bull Junior Driver and is now associated with Williams Racing in Formula 1.

“I think apart from Ticktum, my main title rivals will be Robert (Shwartzman) and Christian (Lungaard)”, added Jehan.

Shwartzman and Lungaard are members of driver academies of Ferrari and Renault respectively. In Formula 3 in 2019, Jehan and Shwartzman battled for the title till the last race of the season (Shwartzman won eventually) while Lungaard finished 6th.

The new F2 format

From 2021, the series has decided to revamp its racing format for the weekend. As expected, the change has been the talking point ever since it was announced last season. Would the new format make Jehan’s title challenge more difficult?

“Honestly, the best way to approach this format is to be as fast as you can. I don’t think one can think about finishing 10th to start the next race on pole or so on. I’d rather move forward and score more points throughout the season,” he said.

He admitted it would be more tricky at a track like Monaco where it is notoriously difficult to overtake – but in the other rounds, overtaking is always possible.

Consistency is a key — explained Jehan, “I’d rather focus on scoring points on all days instead of finishing 9th or 10th to start on the front row the next day. In F2, a lot can be won or lost at the start given how the cars are when it comes to getting off the line. You can easily gain 3-4 places and all of a sudden you’re fighting to finish in the top-5 or the podium.”

“We (Red Bull) have a separate simulator for the junior drivers. I have had time in the simulator to practice for Bahrain. We go through a race weekend from free practice, qualifying to the race. We go through procedures so that they become second nature to me. Now I’m eagerly waiting to go racing,” Jehan signed off.

This post was first published on Firstpost.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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