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  • Kush Maini talks about signing for Alpine, leaving home at 12, and becoming the next big F1 hope of 1,408,000,000 people (Exclusive)
Indian F2 driver Kush Maini of Campos Racing

Kush Maini talks about signing for Alpine, leaving home at 12, and becoming the next big F1 hope of 1,408,000,000 people (Exclusive)

Kush Maini has certainly impressed a lot of motorsport fans with his performances in his rookie F2 season. The Bengaluru-born driver hit the accelerator from the get-go and earned a stellar P4 finish in his first-ever F2 race.

His driving didn't go unnoticed as Alpine signed him for their driver development program. In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Maini opened up about leaving home at 12, his performances this season, and the hardships he faced en route to becoming a racing driver.

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India has been craving for a Formula 1 driver for a long time now. Narayan Karthikeyan was the last Indian to compete in F1.

After Vijay Mallya's Force India was bought by Lawrence Stroll, the last bit of Indian connection to the sport was lost. However, the positive news is that the sport's popularity is consistently growing and the country with a population of 1.4 billion people remains a huge market.

India was among the top five countries by the number of F1 fans (31.1m) according to a Nielsen survey in 2019. While former Red Bull academy driver Jehan Daruvala couldn't crack the code (yet), Kush Maini has certainly taken over the baton of trying to represent India on the F1 grid.

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Mentored by his 'idol' Mika Hakkinen, Maini traded the warmth of home to pursue his F1 dream by moving to the UK. The 9-hour journey can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone for a 12-year-old boy travelling by himself.

However, the devotee of Lord Hanuman knew he had to make this sacrifice if he was to race at the pinnacle of motorsport. Kush Maini summarised how difficult his journey to reach where he is today was, compared to a European racer.

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"We take for granted how difficult it is for Indians to make it to this level. I left home when I was 12, took a flight to UK without my parents or anyone and stayed with my mechanic for the kart team. If you see a European or a British driver, they just need to get in their car, drive a couple of hours and they are at the track with the best competition in the world.
"I really gave up everything. My friends, my family, and my home is my safe space."

The Alpine development driver also emphasised how difficult it was to have known faces around when you have a bad race as a 12-year-old kid. More importantly, Maini bravely embraced his battles and also boldly opened up about his mental struggles in 2021. These struggles nearly led him to believe that his racing career "was over."

"I've had crashes before, I've broken bones before, but that's all physical. It's the mental stuff that really hits you and that's the really tough part to overcome. When you are down in the dumps and you think there's no hope, that's when it's the toughest. Recently, because of all the hardships that have happened, I'm starting to get a better mental fortitude."
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The Indian driver's mental resilience is certainly producing rewards after he signed a deal with Alpine Racing. His next goal is now to take the next step with the French constructor and race in F1.

Kush Maini describes how it felt standing on the podium after facing uncertainty about racing career

Earning a podium in your rookie season is a big deal, regardless of which category you race in. Motorsports is ruthlessly competitive in the modern era and these accomplishments are a massive confidence booster. Especially for Kush Maini, whose future looked uncertain just two years back.

"If you ask the Kush of two years ago when he stopped racing and I was seriously looking for other things to do, if you tell him that you'd be on Formula 2 podium and being taken seriously by Mika Hakkinen and Alpine, I definitely wouldn't believe you. I always knew I had it in me. I had the speed, but it never came together."
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And Kush Maini isn't done yet. After starting on pole position in Hungary's sprint race, the Campos driver is pushing for more consistency. Maini feels he and the team have a lot more to offer after "missing out on 3-4 podiums."

Whether the 23-year-old makes it to F1 or not remains to be seen. However, you can expect Maini to give his all. After all, diamonds are created under pressure.

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Edited by
Akshay Saraswat
 
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