Only 16, Jehan Daruvala is already rising in the motorsports ranks. The youngster, who is being guided and shaped under India’s only Formula 1 team, won Rookie of the Year at the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC series championships in the Netherlands earlier this month.
He has been an F1 enthusiast since he was a little boy, and now Daruvala is firmly on his way to occupying that seat in a few years’ time.
Sportskeeda spoke to him in an exclusive interview after he won the Formula Renault 2.0 award. He talks to us about India, F1 and coping with life in full-time motorsport:
You've been setting tracks ablaze all over the world – but it began in Mumbai. How did your journey with motorsport begin?
When I was a kid I always used to watch Formula 1 on TV. I had a massive passion for speed. Once there was an advertisement for a training camp to be held by Rayo Racing in Powai for young karters. I went there with my dad. After driving 4 stroke karts for the full day, Rayomand selected me and another boy, from a group of about 50 people, saying that we had natural potential. I joined Rayo’s team for the national championship and from then I began my journey with motorsports.
How do you find training and facilities in India?
From what I can see, the National karting championship is growing and there is a lot of potential in the young Indian karters. The training from teams such as Rayo Racing are perfect for a young karter. Unfortunately, facilities are few and far between. If you are in Mumbai, the closest facility is in Kolhapur. Hence you can only practice on weekends, which is not enough. The number of races in the country are limited. If you want your karting career to progress, you need to run many races in Asia. Once you attain a decent level of karting in Asiayou would need to move to Europe because that is where you can truly gauge your potential and push yourself to improve, riding against the best karters in the world.
We have not had many big motorsports icons on the international stage, and only one in F1. Why do you think this is?
According to me, Indians have as much talent as the European drivers. However very few make it on the international stage. Firstly, the number of people pursuing the sport in India is limited. If you do find a talented driver among the few karters in India, he needs to get the right international exposure by the age of 12. This does not happen very often, as a lot of karters stay focussed on the domestic circuit. Even after you make your name in international karting, the move to single seaters is very expensive. In Europe, there are a number of corporates and foundations that support drivers through their development. So as you will see, the odds for an Indian to make it big on the international motorsport stage are very low. That said, today there are more Indians driving in all forms of motorsport internationally then there ever were.
You moved to England when you were younger, in order to pursue your motorsports career. How has this impacted your life?
My main ambition in life is to become a competitive Formula 1 driver and I was willing to go to the UK to pursue my career at the age of 13. There are many sacrifices that are required to be made to make it to the top. I am very passionate about my goal and am aware that there will be many personal sacrifices to get there.
How did you first find Force India, and how has it been with them? Do you interact with Perez or Hulkenberg, and have they given you any advice?
Force India had launched the One in a Billion hunt in India. I was one of the winners. Since then my life has changed, with their help and support.Their guidance and the team of people they built around me, has been very important in my career progression. Since I had not done competitive racing in Europe till I was 13, the learning curve was huge. This was only possible with the support from SFI.
Who are your Formula 1 icons, past and present, and why?
My favourite formula one icon is Fernando Alonso because I admire his natural talent and ability to get the most out of any car he drives.
What is your favourite part of motorsports/racing?
The complete race weekend is a fantastic experience. It is something that I have always dreamed of doing. My favourite part of racing is qualifying, when everything is on the limit and it feels like you are in a league of your own.
You recently beat Sebastian Vettel's lap time at Spa. What is your favourite track on the calendar and why?
I didn’t, I only beat his time at a karting track in Ampfing when I had gone there for the German championship. It felt amazing, though.
You're one of the youngest drivers around and have shown immense promise. Is a move to F1 on the cards, and when would you like to see it happen? What are your thoughts on your contemporary, Max Verstappen?
Yes, I have had a great season so far in my debut year. F1 is the ultimate goal, however there is a long way to go. As of now, my focus will be to learn as much as I can from my team and driver coach, this year. We will take it a step at a time from there.
Max is a great talent. He has done things that no one has been able to accomplish before. His raw talent is there for everybody to see in his first season in F1.
How do you manage your social life/being a teenager whilst juggling a motorsport career that is only scaling new heights? Do you feel it has impacted you at all?
Yes of course, motorsport has affected my social life. I spend about 9 months of the year out of the country and hence do not get as much time as I would like with my family and friends. I have learnt to live with the fact that racing is my priority and requires some sacrifices.
What do you miss about India/Mumbai?
I miss my family, friends and home in India.
What do you think of the new rule changes in Formula 1?
Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, every season has been dominated by a strong team. Initially it was Ferrari, then Red Bull and now Mercedes. There have been regular rule hanges over the years to make the competition tougher.There has been better racing recently, more overtaking and exciting for the fans.
If there was one thing you could change about Motorsports, what would it be?
If there was one thing that could be better is more racing. As in, a bit more excitement with overtaking.
Lastly, do you have any favourite races, iconic ones you've watched from the past and ones you've raced in? We think you're poised to be the next big driver in Formula 1, so we hope you are even more successful going forward!
The most dramatic race I have watched is the 2007 Brazil GP. There was lots of excitement and drama. Thanks for having the confidence in me. It always helps, being surrounded by a positive environment.