The inaugural FIA F3 Championship will be intensely fought – at least 8 drivers are capable of title glory, asserts India’s F3 driver, Jehan Daruvala
The 2018 FIA F3 Championship was expected to be Jehan Daruvala’s highlight season in the world of Motorsport. In an interview with Firstpost this time last year, the young Indian driver had made his target very clear — top-3, or even better, winning the F3 championship. Such results would have him shine brighter in the radar of Formula 1 teams. However, it was not to be.
While the 2018 FIA F3 season will be remembered for Mick Schumacher’s title win, Jehan ended the 2018 season in 10th place, scoring a win and pole position each, five podium finishes and an unfortunate six DNFs (Did Not Finish) out of the 30 races in the season. In contrast and at least in the record books, Jehan’s rookie season performance in 2017 was much better — a sixth-place in the Championship with a win and pole position each.
.@FIAFormula3 attitude: Race hard or Go home! @MarcusArmstrng @DaruvalaJehan & @ShwartzmanRob ready for the new era of Formula 3 Racing! #fiaf3 #2019season #formula3 #seasonpreview
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— PREMA (@PREMA_Team) May 3, 2019
Jehan has understood the brutal truth about Motorsport through the course of his career, that you are only as fast as your car. As luck would have it, 2018 was a poor show from Carlin in itself. The famous racing car team could only manage three wins, the last one at the hands of Jehan at the Spa-Francorchamps, where he dominated a race by claiming pole position, race win and the fastest lap.
Carlin finished the season in fourth place, scoring nearly 200 points less than their second-place finish in 2017. Despite only finishing 10th in the Championship, Jehan was the highest-placed Carlin racer, beating his team-mates with relative ease — an important metric in the world of motorsport.
Given his strong performances in junior formulae and karting, 2018 could be considered as an outlier in Jehan’s career. But would this performance impact his march towards Formula 1? In my view, it could be considered as a ‘comma’, but definitely not a ‘full stop’. In an era where rookies are the name of the game in Formula 1 and are being fast-tracked through the ladder, it would be important to remember that such unprecedented promotions are exceptions to the norm.
Why F3 Over F2?
In lieu of this, Jehan’s decision to participate in the new and revamped FIA F3 Championship in 2019 is understandable — he has unfinished business. But did he consider racing in the faster Formula 2 series given his two years in Formula 3? Explains Jehan, “Frankly, I took the opportunity to race in a series where I believed I had a stronger team.”
“I would say even though it’s called F3, it’s basically GP3. So it’s not much of a third year in Formula 3. The main difference is Pirelli tyres — which I am yet coming to grips with. This also means that my fellow drivers with experience from GP3 last year have more experience heading into the season,” he elaborates.
At the end of last year, Jehan participated in a one-off GP3 race and in the post-season test at the Yas Marina Circuit to understand the GP3 racing format better. While he may benefit from that experience this season, it will be a new challenge altogether with the tyres since Pirelli have changed the tyre composition for this year.
Apart from the tyres, it is the entire Formula 3 package that has changed this year. In fact, the ‘Formula 3’ concept has been reimagined. The new series is a merger of GP3 and Formula 3 from the previous seasons and has been officially designated as a feeder series to Formula 2 and Formula 1. Explains Jehan, “This car is very different, it’s got almost twice the horsepower and the main difference is the car is a lot heavier. In fact, it is slower through corners than the old F3 car.”
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Given the series’ profile, some of the best racing talents aiming for a career in Formula 1 will be competing alongside Jehan in 2019. Jehan understands the challenge and is eying a top-three finish. “I think it is one of the toughest junior series grids ever. If I finish in the top three, it will be great. I believe that there are at least eight drivers capable of winning and my biggest rivals will be my teammates, Markus (Armstrong) and Rob (Shwartzman),” he says. Armstrong and Shwartzman, both members of the Ferrari Driver Academy, would be the best benchmarks for Jehan all through 2019.
In pre-season testing, Jehan registered competitive lap-times and considerable mileage. In fact, the Prema Racing trio (Armstrong-Shwartzman-Daruvala) were the class of the field for most sessions. “All three pre-season tests went well and according to plan. The cars were new for everyone so it was imperative for drivers and teams to adapt. The target wasn’t to extract maximum pace but instead to go through all of our plans, which we could. Our testing pace seemed good and we were always near the top in both dry and wet conditions. However, it’s always hard to judge pre-season testing form and now I’m looking forward to Round 1,” he adds.
Why Prema Racing?
For 2019, choosing the ‘correct’ team is even more imperative for Jehan. First, the series is new and adaptability will be key for the team and driver. Even more so, F3 being a support race to Formula 1 would mean lesser track time on the racing weekends for car setup, practice, etc. Given this context, Jehan’s choice of Prema Racing is understandable. Prema has been one of the star teams in F3 winning six titles on the trot from 2012 till 2018. In fact, Prema has been successful across various junior racing series and their experience will benefit Jehan. He elaborates, “It was a no-brainer for me, whatever they (Prema) compete in, they are very competitive. Also, it’s a family team and makes me feel very comfortable.”
Formula 1 Plans
Vijay Mallya’s exit from Force India last year was another blow to Jehan’s Formula 1 plans as his ‘Indian’ connection in the paddock was lost. However, the possibility of a continuation of the relationship with Racing Point (erstwhile Force India) could still exist. After all, Jehan is still one of the best junior drivers out there and if the relationship does continue, it would be for his talent, and not his nationality. In my several interactions with Jehan, his maturity and situational awareness always came through.
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If not Formula 1, would he be open to racing elsewhere? “At this stage, my career path looks like F3 to F2 to eventually racing in Formula 1. Moving to sports cars hasn’t crossed my mind. I want to make it Formula 1 and be successful there and I will keep working towards that goal. But if it doesn’t work out, I would be very happy to race in Formula E in the future,” he says.
Some of the best stories from the world of sport are the epic comeback stories; ones where athletes have defied the odds and pressure to achieve success. For Jehan, here’s hoping that 2019 is the comeback year that he requires to get Formula 1 teams reinstating interest in his talent.
This post was first published on Firstpost