One of the surest signs of having found your way into the national zeitgeist in India is to be featured in one of the pun-loaded commercials for Amul Butter. In a tradition that goes back over fifty years, the topical advertisements have had record-creating cricketers, Indian prime ministers, supersonic missiles, US presidents. You can add 20-year-old race-car driver Jehan Daruvala to that list now.
"Saare Jehan se accha. Maskavala for Daruvala" went the joke.
Daruvala earned this bit of pop acclaim for his most-recent exploit, winning the season-opening race of the 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday. The win, just his third in the Formula 3, places the Mumbai-born driver third on the drivers' championships and marks him out as one of the contenders for the top spot over the remaining seven races this season.
- Amul.coop (@Amul_Coop) 16 May 2019
It was an outcome that didn't seem particularly likely ahead of the two races held in Barcelona over the weekend. Daruvala had competed on the predecessor of the Formula 3 championships - the FIA Formula 3 European championships - for the past two seasons and had won just two races out of a total of sixty starts.
He was also on untested ground this season. Having signed on with the Prema Powerteam Racing (based out of Grisignano di Zocco, Vicenza, North Italy) in December last year, Daruvala had had all of six preseason testing days with his new car. He isn't someone to make excuses - "everyone is playing by the same rules as me," he says. He had mostly practised on a simulator but that would only go a little way in adapting to his new environment. His new vehicle was undoubtedly a different beast than the one he had been racing with in his previous two seasons. "It's a 3.4 liter engine compared to the 2 liter engine we were racing with last season. The chasis is about a hundred kilos heavier so the car is a bit lazy around the turns. But the fact is that there is so much more power that we have to control now," he says.
It wasn't the improved power that he struggled with in race 1 though. Rather, it was the lack of it, as a technical issue with his two-clutch mechanisms meant that he was stranded in the second row even as most of his opponents blew past him. He eventually got going and still managed to finish 7th.
Daruvala's team's race engineers were able to figure out the issue in time for Sunday's race though, which meant that the Indian was able to lead all the way from the start to finish. While he's clearly thrilled about opening his campaign with a win, Daruvala isn't getting too far ahead of himself at the moment.
He emphasizes the fact that Prema are the undisputed heavyweights of Formula 3 - with the Italian side having won the team championship in the erstwhile FIA Formula 3 European championships for the last six seasons. "I'm kind of expected to win here. Winning is a routine for Prema. When they sign you, they are expecting you to win. Its quite a normal thing for them. So that comes with a bit of pressure," he says.
That pressure is a positive. The move to Prema from Carlin Racing is a very significant one in Daruvala's career considering the team's reputation as well as the close tie ups it has with Mercedes and Ferrari. "There were about 20 drivers all trying to get one of the three seats Prema had. So it was quite tough to get in with them" says Daruvala. What had helped his case was that he had had a decent season with five podium finishes including a win with Carlin. He was also was familiar to the team having raced along Prema driver Marcus Armstrong in the 2017 Toyota Racing series - a prestigious New Zealand based series-where he had claimed pole position on five out of ten races. "Marcus knows me from there and the team knew what I could do with the right vehicle," says Daruvala.
Having got in, there are precedents Daruvala will hope to live upto. Four of the last five drivers to have won the Formula 3 European championships drivers championships with Prema have all gone on to have careers in Formula 1 (2013 winner Raffaele Marciello was a reserve driver for Sauber, 2014 winner Esteban Ocon is a reserve driver for Mercedes-AMG Petronas, while 2016 winner Lance Stroll has finished on the podium with Willams) for or Indycar (2015 winner Felix Rosenquist). Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, the winner of the driver's championships last year is currently competing in Formula 2 although he has also taken part in testing with Ferrari at the Bahrain GP.
While he certainly is making all the right moves towards what remains his ultimate goal, Daruvala isn't looking all that far ahead at this moment. Indeed, he had the opportunity to move up to Formula 2 this year too but chose to stay back in order to race a season with Prema. "There wasn't any point moving to Formula 2 right now. There aren't any places open in Formula 1 so it wasn't as if I was likely to get a place with them. For now, my goal is to compete one season with Prema and make sure I finish in the top three of the drivers' championships," he says.
Daruvala has a couple of weeks before his second race of the season - at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France and he has plenty of homework to do before that. While there's plenty of satisfaction from being recognized in an iconic adverstising campaign so early in his career, Daruvala knows this can't be the final stop. "There's plenty of data that my team would have compiled regarding how I did. I've got a fifty-page document waiting for me to read. I might have won a race but there's a long way to go," he says.