Friday, February 23

‘I can smell F1’, says Indian driver Kush Maini on signing for Alpine F1 team’s young driver programme

kush maini F1
Kush Maini F1

After being signed by the Alpine F1 team for their young driver initiative, Indian driver Kush Maini took a step closer to realising his dream of competing in Formula One.

With Campos Racing, the 23-year-old is participating in his first Formula 2 season and has shown himself to be one of the most impressive rookies on the grid. Despite only having one podium, he has demonstrated moments of brilliance, such as finishing second in Silverstone’s qualifying.

“Just to be with a professional team at the top level of motorsport is an invaluable experience. The chance to speak with engineers and be on the simulator; you learn a lot by spending just one day at an F1 factory. But at the end of the day, you have to perform in F2. Once you do well, that road to drive an F1 car like a young driver test or a session in Free Practice 1 is easier as there is a path,” said Kush in an interaction with Sportstar.

The endorsement from Alpine F1 has been a huge boost for a driver who nearly gave up racing two years ago when funding dried up due to the pandemic. The Indian will be coached by Mika Hakkinen, a former two-time Formula One winner, who recently joined the team.

“I think it has been a long journey, and the last few years were tough, as many of my drives fell through in 2020 and 2021. If you had told me two years ago that I would be in F2, have an affiliation with an F1 team, with Mika in my corner, I would have said you were joking. But now we are at the last step, and I can smell F1, but it will take a lot of work to get there,” he added.

“In 2021, I didn’t race all year. We didn’t have the money, and I was mentally down and ready to quit. But the lessons I have learnt in that time are invaluable. I am a calm-minded driver and know how to deal with failure.”

A driver who wants to compete at the highest level of motorsports is definitely doomed after a two-year hiatus. Not only do opportunities go lost, but when one can’t afford something and loses momentum, a lot of important learning is also lost.

“In motorsport, if you stand still, you go backwards. It is huge if you are not competing at the top level. I was to do F3 in 2020 and ended up doing it in 2022. When I returned to Bahrain last year, I qualified third but made the stupid mistake of missing the weighbridge. You are rusty and out of it, while young kids do two or three championships in a year. I may be one of the oldest on the grid but the least experienced, so my path has been unconventional,” he explained. 

Speaking on his F2 season thus far, Kush, who is currently ranked 12th, thought he had demonstrated decent pace in qualifying but was open enough to acknowledge that he still has to work on a number of aspects, especially race pace.

“Personally and as a team, our race pace has not been as strong as in qualifying, and we need to improve. The F2 cars have carbon brakes, and the brake bias is a sensitive tool, which wasn’t the case in other formulas I have driven, and I should have been more on it,” he said.

“For example, in Bahrain, you want to protect your rear tyres and not lock it up under braking. So you move your brake bias forward, but if you do it too much, your rear brakes get too cold, and you end up locking it anyway. This I struggled with for sure.” 

“The target for next year is to make fewer mistakes, be consistent and improve my race understanding,” said Kush as he ended the interaction.

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