India’s Jehan Daruvala can help F1 smash elitist barrier
DURBAN - Formula 1 is perhaps the most elitist sport you can get and is out of the vast majority of the world population’s reach.
Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton remains the only black driver to have ever taken to the grid as the sport structurally excludes the vast majority of black people and people from the developing world.
According to Formula 1 Journalist Joe Saward, viewership of the sport dropped 8% in 2020 so it is essential that the sport reaches new fans in the developing world if it is to navigate into the future successfully.
The sport cannot afford to rely on its European market to sustain itself forever and it needs to shed its image of being a sport exclusive to elite families from Europe. It has tried but not had much success in growing within the American market but a competitive driver from India could definitely grow the sport in the country with a population of well over a billion people.
Enter talented Carlin Motorsport Formula 2 Championship driver Jehan Daruvala, who could be India’s next Formula 1 driver.
Unlike many of his peers, who started their involvement in karting and racing in the formative years of childhood, Daruvala had a later start but has been able to adapt quickly.
“I started karting in India when I was 10 and went to Europe when I was 13. Many of my competitors started when they were four or five and there is a big gap between them but when I went to Europe, everything happened super quickly. I still have over 10 years of experience. I do feel that there is a lot to learn but I am now in a state where I can develop things quickly," said Daruvala, speaking exclusively to IOL.
Granted, if Daruvala does make the cut into F1, he will not be the first Indian to do so.
Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok also did but both failed to make a significant impact, though it must be said that they did not get the opportunity to race in powerful points-winning cars.
“Both made their own name in F1 for themselves and in our country. They are highly respected in India and my idols. My goal is to be successful in F1 and hopefully be the third Indian to get there. They have not been directly in touch with me but they always back me and send messages to me,” said Daruvala, highlighting the influence of Karthikeyan and Chandhok on his career.
The Mumbai-born Daruvala is part of the Red Bull Junior team and is embarking on his second season with Carlin in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, which is regarded as the precursor to Formula 1 entry.
Daruvala’s allegiance with Red Bull is significant when considering that drivers who are selected by the brand often end up in Formula 1 and it typically produces competitive F1 cars.
“There has always been pressure as I am one step away from F1. The pressure is high, knowing that if I do well, there is possibly a seat in F1 but that is the same for everyone. My goal is, as usual, to do the best I can and hopefully, my results on track will do the talking.”
This season is a make-or-break one for Daruvala. If he succeeds, he could wind up in an F1 team next year and has been tipped to potentially break into the Scuderia AlphaTauri team, currently represented by Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.
Japanese driver Tsunoda (20), who impressively finished ninth in his first F1 race in Bahrain last month is someone that Daruvala knows more than most people, as the duo were teammates at Carlin last season.
“Yuki is still quite new to racing in Europe. He only came here in 2019 and now he’s in Formula 1. He’s a super-fast kid and the main thing is that he can adapt to machinery really quickly so I think there is a lot of hype around
him. He could be the bright future of Formula 1 and I’m glad that he is doing well," he said.
Daruvala was formerly a product of the now-defunct Force India F1 team and was one of three winners of its 2011 ‘One in a Billion hunt’ which aimed to identify the next generation of Indian racing superstars.
He made history in Bahrain last November as he became the first Indian to win an F2 race, beating stiff competition from Mick Schumacher, the winner of last season’s F2 Championship, and the highly-rated Dan Ticktum.
Schumacher, who is the son of seven-time World Champion Michael, is now competing in Formula 1 for the middle of the pack Haas team.
“At that time when Mick was chasing me, the main thing was to make my car as wide as possible and to make it as hard as I can and block and always try and get good exits. I made it as hard as I could and fortunately it paid off.
I’ve been racing for 10 years and so attacking and defending comes quite naturally. I decided to put everything that I learned to use,” he said.
Daruvala finished his rookie F2 season in 12th place on the driver standings, though he did manage to collect an impressive 46 points from the last three rounds, which put him among the top achievers in that period.
Daruvala made a steady start to the F2 season last month in Bahrain with second and fourth-place finishes in the sprint races before going on to finish sixth in the feature race.
He will not only be racing for himself in F2 this season but he will also be racing for the future growth of F1 in India and in developing parts of the world.
Imagine if an Indian racer ends up in a competitive car in the pinnacle of motorsport and scores points? The sport is likely to experience a growth spurt with new fans coming in left, right, and centre.