Kush Maini tests F1 car with Alpine at Red Bull Ring

Kush Maini F1 car test with Alpine at Red Bull Ring

It was a historic day for Indian Motorsport as Kush Maini drove in his maiden F1 test with Alpine at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on 5th June, 2024. Kush’s test was a part of Alpine’s young driver test under the “testing previous cars” (TPC) program that is permitted by Formula 1.

I was there!

Kush Maini – F1 car test with Alpine, facts:

  • Car: A522 (Alpine F1 Team’s 2022 car)
  • No. of laps: 110+
  • No. of kilometres: 500+ kms
  • Tyres: Pirelli (TPC-designated tyres)
  • No. of tyres: 5 dry sets (3 x hard, 2 x soft) + 1 wet set
  • Longest run: 17 laps (high fuel, hard tyre)
  • Shortest run: 5 laps (low fuel, soft tyre)


I have known the Maini family for years. Kush’s elder brother, Arjun, who is now racing for Mercedes in DTM, was the winner of the “One from a Billion Hunt” – a program launched by the Force India Formula 1 Team back in the 2010s to find India’s next Formula 1 driver. In fact, the handful of National championship races that I competed in (Formula LGB), in the mid-2000s, Kush’s father Gautam was one of participants!

At the Inside Line F1 Pitstop event that I co-hosted in January 2024 in Bengaluru, Kush had announced that he would be testing a Formula 1 car this year. The test at the Red Bull Ring was the first of four tests that Kush will participate in with Alpine in 2024.

What did we do at Kush Maini’s first F1 test with Alpine?

Kush spent two days at the Red Bull Ring. I was present on both days in my personal capacity and for covering Kush’s first-ever F1 test with Alpine for FanCode, the official broadcaster of Formula 1 and Formula 2 in India. In fact, the Maini family was kind enough to extend the invite to my three-year old daughter Antara and wife Mithila (also an FIA-accredited journalist).

On 4th June (Wednesday), Kush had his seat fit at 1430 hrs CEST – and it took about 45 mins for the team-driver to be fully comfortable with their setting. The car was designed for Esteban Ocon, a tall driver, so fitting Kush in needed some work.

After the seat fit, Kush was involved in engineering briefings for several hours. The briefings included Alpine’s run plans for Kush’s maiden F1 test, a meeting with the systems and performance engineers, understanding the various buttons and possible settings on the steering wheel and several other aspects to help Kush transition into driving a Formula 1 car for the first time in his career.

My personal highlight of the day was when Kush gave a tour of his “driver room” to my daughter Antara. She was fascinated that Kush bhai had a race car…and a truck to himself at the race track!

Antara had made an “all the best” card for Kush for his F1 test debut with Alpine – and he kept the card in his driver room next to his race gear all test long.

We wrapped up the Wednesday with some broadcast content work for FanCode. Typically for Spielberg, we faced mixed weather on this day – lots of interrupted filming.

What would the actual test day bring?

The morning session

Kush tested the Alpine F1 car on Thursday (5th June, 2024). The day started early – we arrived at the track at 0815 hrs and Kush was off on the circuit in his road car for two laps with the Alpine’s test team manager (Andrew) and his test engineer (Karel Loos). In his “driver room”, Kush and his performance coach Warren conducted their warm-up sessions to gear up for the important hours ahead. The weather was perfect to go racing!

The circuit opened at 0900 hrs and Kush was out for his first run almost immediately. In the official run plan for the day, Alpine aptly named this run as “wake-up”. He completed 11 laps in this run and when he returned to the pits, he flicked open his visor and gave me a wide ear-to-ear smile. The helmet covered his wide grin, but I could see it! I could sense that he was already enjoying himself – and the fun had only just started.

In the first half of the F1 test day (0900-1200 hrs), Kush had five runs planned. This included runs to set a base line for the day’s performance, balance adjustments and setup changes. In the first half, Kush covered 50+ laps and over 250 kms of testing distance. Interestingly, Kush chose to sit in the car in between runs instead of jumping out to catch a break. I guess he just didn’t want to let go of the car – after all, he sat in the car for three hours straight!

In the lunch hour (1200 hrs – 1330 hrs), Kush and I recorded content that will be broadcast on FanCode and several other media outlets in the days to follow the test. I also interviewed Karel Loos, Kush’s test engineer for the day as designated by Alpine.

The afternoon session

Alpine had planned qualifying and race simulations for Kush in the second-half of the day. This was done over 7 runs, including two low-fuel qualifying runs on a new set of softs. The other runs were high-fuel runs with used sets of tyres and so on.

I had two wonderfully talented videographers with me – Charlie and Oliver. Along with Kush’s dad Gautam, the three of us ventured out on-track to capture Kush’s test from various angles for FanCode. The Red Bull Ring is a gorgeous circuit and I have often called it the “Wimbledon of Formula 1”. The circuit has a wonderful touch of Red Bull. The staff is very friendly, the circuit facilities are immensely clean and the restaurant at the circuit serves delectable food.

Kush wrapped up his test session as planned and a little after 1600 hrs. He had covered over 110 laps and 500 kms in the day across various runs.

Understandably, he was sad when the test ended. “I need more of this, Kunal. I am sad that the test has ended. I want to race in Formula 1,” quipped Kush.

After the test, I did a few long form sit down interviews with Kush. He also did an explainer video of his steering wheel that he used that day for his F1 test. Look out for these videos on the FanCode and/or their social media.

How did Kush Maini fare in his F1 test with Alpine?

This is the key question on everyone’s minds. In short, Kush had a superb debut F1 test with Alpine. He kept it clean and brought the car home without damage through all his runs. The Red Bull Ring is known for its notorious kerbs – and you need to ride correctly to extract lap time. Kush rode them well without inflicting damage on the car.

The other two metrics were 1) progression and 2) feedback. Kush’s performance in the car got better as he spent more time in it through the day. In between his runs, the team was impressed with the quality of his feedback. My interview with Karel captures more about Alpine’s objectives in awarding Kush his maiden F1 test in their 2022 car.

But you want lap times, don’t you?

Alpine won’t make lap times public. Understandably, because this was a private test and there are lots of variables at play – the weather, the engine modes, tyres, fuel loads, etc.

Gautam and I, along with Warren (Kush’s physio), tracked lap times in every run. Of course, this was for our personal reference and includes a degree of human error.

At the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, which was a Sprint weekend, we checked Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon’s times from the Free Practice sessions. The lap times from Qualifying aren’t representative because of a) higher engine modes, b) track evolution and c) tow. Also, drivers can extract more performance as they build momentum from Q1 to Q3.

Alonso and Ocon’s times in practice were 1:08.8 – again, we didn’t go into specifics of tyre compounds, but Gautam and I took these are our personal targets for Kush. Another differentiating factor was the tyres – the TPC tyres have a significant offset to actual race tyres used in 2022.

After accounting for all these deducting factors, Kush’s lap times were super competitive.

The lap times certainly didn’t reflect that this was Kush’s first ever test in an F1 car.

He’s been dreaming about this day since the age of 7…so he’s fast, in his dreams and in real life. Apart from the obvious challenge of stepping up to race a Formula 1 car, I was blown away by how calmly Kush dealt with the magnitude of the occasion and the expectations from his first-ever F1 test with Alpine. There was never a moment when Kush felt stressed or overawed by the occasion.

If there was one line for me to describe how Kush handled his debut F1 test with Alpine it would be – “he owned the day!”

What’s next for Kush Maini and Alpine?

Esteban Ocon’s departure from Alpine was announced a day before Kush’s F1 test. The two events weren’t related since this test was confirmed many weeks before. However, there is an opportunity at Alpine for 2025.

For Kush, Formula 2 remains his key focus in 2024. After two tough rounds in Imola and Monaco, Kush is looking to bounce back in Spain. The team and he have found solutions that should bring him back to the front of the field – as he was in the openings rounds of the 2024 Formula 2 season.

As for F1 tests, Kush has 3 more left for the year. The next F1 next is scheduled for after the next 3 races (please wait for official confirmations). For Alpine to seriously consider Kush as an option for 2025, a top-3 in the Formula 2 championship is a key result.

If you want to ask me more about Kush Maini & his F1 test with Alpine, feel free to catch me on Twitter @kunalashah

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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