As someone who has been racing nearly all his life, Indian Formula 2 driver Jehan Daruvala is familiar with mishaps on the racing track. On Sunday, he'd been in shot of a podium finish, before being spun off the track at the Bahrain International Circuit by a competitor. His misfortune though, wasn't as spectacular as that which occurred in the F1 race that followed the F2 event. Haas driver Romain Grosjean had to crawl out of an inferno even as his car split in two following a crash on the first lap of the race.
For Daruvala, the horrific crash is just part of being a high-level race car driver. "It's obviously difficult to see but at least he (Grosjean) was fine. And at the end of the day, we know that this is what we do. We drive very fast and powerful race cars to their limit and sometimes things can go wrong," he says.
And when things do go wrong, Daruvala admits it's not the drivers who are the most affected, as they are willing to accept the risks of following their passion. "It's hard to watch but I think it's harder for my parents and sister to watch. For the rest of us, we know what we have signed up for," he says.
That means that any accidents, be it to a fellow competitor or to themselves, have to be quickly forgotten, at least as long as he wants to remain a race car driver. "Obviously, when accidents happen, you can't help but think of it but once you are on the track yourself, competing in your own race, you don't think of it. You can't think of it because when you are going at the kind of speeds you are, your focus can't be anywhere but on the track," he says.
And while Grosjean's crash might have been the talking point this F1 weekend, Daruvala had a talking point of his own. Competing in Saturday's feature race, he secured his first podium finish - and the first ever by an Indian in the F2 championships -- in what is his maiden season. Racing for Carlin, the race saw him display intelligence, pitting early on a track that was brutal on tires, in order to get ahead of the drivers who waited to take their mandatory pit stop. He also showed incredible defensive skills keeping out a rampaging championship leader, and Haas 2021 signing, Mick Schumacher for the last twelve laps.
For Daruvala though, the maiden podium finish, on his 21st start of the season, wasn't nearly enough. "It felt good to get on the podium, but my goal isn't to have one podium finish in a year. It is to be consistently on the podium. It's to finish in the front and continuously finish at that podium throughout the year," he says.
"At the end of the day, we know that this is what we do. We drive very fast and powerful race cars to their limit and sometimes things can go wrong." Jehan Daruvala
What makes things harder for Daruvala is the fact that his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda has had a far more successful season, compiling 157 points to his 51 with five podium finishes, including two race wins. Not all of this is Daruvala's fault. He'd been plagued with engine trouble for much of the season, a situation that only improved when he finally saw his powerplant changed following the race weekend in Monza in September. Daruvala has finished among the points in four of his six starts following Monza, compared to just six out of 16 before the swap.
He could have scored points in five of his last six starts but for a five-second penalty in the sprint race at Sochi, which saw him drop from 5th to 11th. He's scored 28 points in the last six starts, compared to 30 by Tsunoda over the same period. "I've changed my engine post Monza and that's made things a lot better. I'd get into really good positions but I'd end up losing power on the straights, which is where you have to be fast. I'd been losing out on the straights compared to my teammates especially at Silverstone, Spa and Monza and after the engine changed, I've been competitive with my teammate once again," he says.
At next weekend's season-ender, also in Bahrain, Daruvala will look to pick up some more points. While the layout of the track has been changed, the Indian is hopeful of his prospects. "The layout will be completely different and no one has any experience of it. It's also shorter and that brings its own challenges. There won't be a lot of differences in the lap times because the race is shorter but at the same time, any mistake could be critical," he says.
With just one more race in the season, Daruvala knows he isn't likely to be making much headway in the drivers championships - he's currently 13th out of 25 drivers. His goal, he says, is to finish the season on a high and use the momentum to prepare for the next season. "Obviously I won't be fighting for a championship this year but the only thing I can do is learn as much as I can and prepare for next year. I'm just looking forward to finish the season on a high and hopefully securing a good team for next season as well," he says.