Written by Nakul Naik, Edited by Harshi Vashee
Formula One and India have a curious relationship. The country was largely unexplored territory in terms of viewership potential when Bernie Ecclestone, the chief of the Formula One group at the time, decided that conducting a race in the country would spark an interest in F1 and motorsport in general.
However, despite all the efforts, ticket sales and government support dwindled. The country hasn’t hosted a grand prix since 2013 and hasn’t had a driver since Narain Karthikeyan in 2012. But now, after years of waiting, Indian fans might get to see an Indian driver in the sport.
Jehan Daruvala has proved to be India’s biggest Formula One prospect in over a decade. While other Indian drivers have made it to the higher rungs of single seater racing, none have gotten as far as Daruvala has. He has achieved the highest ever result for an Indian driver by finishing third in the 2019 Formula Three season, scored seven podiums including three victories in Formula Two so far, and is driving for a championship winning team in the current season. However, despite his achievements, the clock is ticking for Daruvala as he enters his third season in the feeder series.
Daruvala’s Formula Two career, so far, has been characterized by bad luck and a lot of missed opportunities.
Daruvala’s debut season was an unusual one. On one hand, his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, blitzed the field, showing that the car was capable of winning races and achieving podiums (he eventually finished third in the championship) and on the other, Daruvala barely had anything to show.
Towards the end of the season, however, there was a significant improvement. He held off Dan Ticktum in the Sakhir sprint race to become the first Indian to win an F2 race. It was later revealed that a faulty engine was the reason behind his woes throughout the season.
The turnaround in form is shown by the fact that he scored only twenty three points in the first eight rounds, followed by an engine replacement, and forty nine points in the final four rounds of the season.
2021 as a whole could be seen as a missed opportunity for Daruvala. The stage was set for him to step up his game and contend for the F2 title. On a grid exploding with talent, he could show that he deserved a seat in F1 and make a case for Helmut Marko to potentially promote him to Alpha Tauri. But, this was not to be. Sure, there were flashes of brilliance with his five podiums and two victories, but 2021 was a disappointing season full of inconsistency.
Presently, Daruvala is signed to Prema, a team that has produced consecutive champions in Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri. The grid this year is brimming with talent with the likes of Dennis Hauger, Jack Doohan, Logan Sargeant, and Theo Pourchaire competing for the title. Winning, if not contending for the F2 championship this year is not only an uphill task, but also Daruvala’s only option.
The top brass in Formula One start losing interest with every extra year a driver spends in the junior categories.
Given that this year is Daruvala’s third season in Formula Two, the future looks bleak in terms of a Formula One seat. While Pierre Gasly’s potential departure from Alpha Tauri at the end of the current F1 season does open up possibilities, there are several other drivers such as Oscar Piastri, Nico Hulkenberg, Calum Ilott, and Antonio Giovinazzi with a lot more to show, potentially aiming for that seat.
Being an Indian, I would have only loved to see an Indian driver representing my country in the pinnacle of motorsport. While I hope I am proven wrong, I cannot see Daruvala making it into Formula One based purely on talent.
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