When considering which Indian racing car driver could be racing in Formula 1 next, Jehan Daruvala and Arjun Maini are two names that are top-of-mind. However, for many years now, another junior driver, Kush Maini, has been sharpening his skills and delivering results in junior formulae to grow the list of probable drivers from two to three. Yes, ours is a large country and it isn't uncommon for people to share their last names " but Kush is indeed Arjun's younger brother.
Kush, whose most impressive record in karting was finishing 4th in the CIK-FIA World KF-Junior Championships, graduated to single-seater racing with the Formula 4 series in 2016. After racing in the Formula 4 class for two years, the 18-year old Bengaluru lad competed in the uber-competitive British F3 series in 2018. In fact, he was in championship contention till mid-way through the 2018 season eventually finishing 3rd " a notable finish given that it was his debut season.
In this freewheeling chat with Firstpost, Kush shares his plans for 2019 and more.
Racing plans for 2019
Kush will be racing for M2 Competition in the Renault Eurocup this season with a view to get one step closer to Formula 1. He explained, "The Renault Eurocup has served as a stepping stone for a lot of drivers already. Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris both competed in the series on their way to F1 and the series has proved to be very competitive in the past."
Of course, the question remains about why Kush did not then choose to spend a second season in British F3 and challenge for the crown. Kush explained, "The reason I chose to compete in the Eurocup this year was due to the upgrade in cars as well as the fact that the series runs on several F1 circuits including Monaco." The 3rd round of the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup will be the support race for the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix on 25-26 May.
The natural question that then follows is why Kush chose to not race in the new F3 series, which could have been a natural progression from his success in British F3. Kush revealed, "I chose the Eurocup series over the FIA F3 championship as it serves as a perfect bridge between the BRDC F3 series and the FIA F3 championship. In essence, the FIA F3 series is an evolution of the GP3 series and I'd like to build my experience step by step rather than plunge into a series headfirst."
Excellent afternoon at Monza as @kmainiofficial went fastest among the #FormulaRenault Eurocup rookies in P5 overall. P7 for @EstebanMuth (P12 overall) and P21 for @YvesBaltas.Tomorrow, it's free practice. pic.twitter.com/BDBqYF9Tsb
" M2 Competition (@M2_Competition) April 11, 2019
In an overall sense, Kush has taken the right steps with an eye on the eventual prize " Formula 1. His advisors must be applauded for not trying to rush through junior formulae of racing. This is where the examples of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc who graduated to Formula 1 as early-adults can be misleading. It is absolutely okay for young drivers to take their time and arrive at the doorsteps of Formula 1 when they are ready. Before the arrival of the current young prodigies, entering Formula 1 in the early or mid-20s was the norm. The Formula Renault Eurocup is one of Europe's most competitive junior single-seater series with race winners and champions including Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr and Stoffel Vandoorne. More recently, it helps that this was the path followed by Leclerc and Norris, two of the most talented young drivers on the current F1 grid (they were also junior drivers of Ferrari and Mclaren, respectively). This season, the Renault Eurocup will utilize Formula 3 chassis for the first time and new 1.8-litre turbocharged engine " a combination that Kush is familiar racing from in 2018 (although the engine will be 60-70bhp more powerful). There are several talented young drivers on the grid and performing well against them will add to Kush's reputation. Interestingly, F1 double world champion Fernando Alonso's FA Racing team officially joins the 2019 grid too. And of course, one would expect the Renault Eurocup to cost lesser than a full F3 program. Let's remember, Indian racing drivers are still struggling to find consistent support in the form of corporate sponsorship. For 2019, Kush's talent and familiarity should see him emerge as a top-3 finisher in the championship, if not the champion. In the pre-season testing, Kush has matched pace with his rivals and ended the final pre-season test on Thursday in 3rd place overall. This morning and in the 1st qualifying session of the Formula Renault Eurocup's opening round in Monza, Kush qualified a respectable 4th " 3 tenths adrift of his rivals.
🏁 WHAT. A. SESSION. @lore_colombo12 and @mpmotorsport_ make history as they claim the first pole position ever with the #FormulaRenault FR-19 after an exhilarating head-to-head with rookie @WildeUgo at @Autodromo_Monza! pic.twitter.com/j5QpJHSWek
" Renault Sport Series (@RenaultSpSeries) April 13, 2019
Driving for M2 Competition
Kush's team in the Renault Eurocup, M2 Competition, is debuting in Europe this year (they have previously only raced in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand). Joining a new team is always risky " but with everything to be gained. Explains Kush, "While some might consider signing for M2 a risk given they are new to the series, I am confident in their ability. We have an existing relationship with them as Arjun raced for them in the Toyota Racing series in 2015 and I feel very comfortable with the working environment." Kush's confidence is understandable, but here's hoping that M2's inexperience doesn't turn out to be the Achilles heel in Kush's 2019 campaign.
On the road to Formula 1
Given that Kush's elder brother Arjun has also been forging a name for himself in motorsport, it is interesting to follow the progress of both brothers. Kush is seemingly walking on a different path to F1 than Arjun (who has switched to sports car racing for 2019) " so are there any learnings from Arjun's career that he's taken into account? Shares Kush, "Surely there's a lot to learn from Arjun's career path so far. It would be foolish not to consult him on his opinion as he is in the best position to help me with my career choices. I wouldn't necessarily say our career choices are different, it's more to do with the fact that the motorsports ladder has evolved over the years which makes it seem like it's different."
Arjun made news by landing a development driver role with Haas in 2017 and while the role hasn't yet converted to a rookie test, Kush shared with us that he was in fact targeting a development driver role, saying, "A development driver role definitely boosts your chances of a F1 seat." This is true - for most junior drivers, this sort of an association with a F1 team adds experience and exposure, like we've seen in the case of Charles Leclerc. However, a possible caveat with such an opportunity would be that it comes at a cost that's over and above a driver's annual racing budget and with little guarantee of a F1 test.
Arjun recently announced his switch to endurance racing " he will be doing a full season of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). Would Kush also consider racing in other forms of motorsport? He shares, "For now my focus is in formula cars (single-seaters) but who knows what the future holds."
The motorsport ladder is complicated and ever-evolving, but both Maini brothers are making smart decisions while keeping their focus on Formula 1. It's with this same spirit that F1's former double World Champion Fernando Alonso is redefining the motorsport landscape by racing across various series. However, in the case of Kush, 2019 will be a defining year and a top-3 in the championship or the win will bring him in the radar of Formula 1 teams and set him up well to pursue the FIA F3 Championship in 2020. Here's hoping that Indian motorsport fans are treated with the Indian national anthem playing on the podium on multiple occasions.