Jehan Daruvala had a mixed season in 2021, winning two races – Sprint Race 2 at Monza and Sprint Race 1 at the Yas Marina Circuit with overall five podium finishes and a total of 113 points. He also competed in the F3 Asian championship where he chalked up three wins, two second-placed finishes and three third-place finishes. But there were also some missed chances, such as the Sprint Race 2 in the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix or the Sprint Race 1 at Monaco.

He finished the year at the seventh position in the overall 2021 F2 drivers’ championship standings and as he approaches the beginning of what could be make-or-break season for his Formula 1 dreams, he is focused on making his third consecutive year in the Red Bull Junior Program count. This year, he has also switched to reigning champions and unarguably the most dominant team in F2 racing, Prema, which gives Daruvala just the right ammunition to head into the season.

As the 23-year-old prepares for the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, he speaks to about his plans for an all-important year, the lessons he has learned, his experience with Red Bull and more:

You were around 10 when your dad saw an advertisement for Rayomand Banajee’s karting academy for which you tried out. It’s been over a decade of racing. With Bahrain just a month away, how are you looking at 2022, what are your plans?

It has been a long journey so far but heading into the 2022 season with a couple of years of experience in Formula 2, I have the seat at Prema and I’m still part of the Red Bull junior team, so it’s a big opportunity for me. Obviously, there’s going to be pressure but I’m really looking forward to it. My end goal is to go to Formula 1 and I have all the tools available with me. Now, it’s all about trying to get the best result possible which will boost that level needed to go to F1.

In December, you mentioned that you would have to look beyond F1 if you didn’t make it to the pinnacle in 2023. You’ve made a decision that requires putting in a lot of thought and sacrifice, when and how did you come around deciding that this year could be make or break for your plans for F1?

I think it was a combination of a lot of things. There are not many seats available in Formula 1 as such. I’m part of the Red Bull junior team and from their side also, this year has to be the year that I perform well and it doesn’t look like there are any more seats. It is a make or break year for F1 but not my motorsport career so that’s what I meant by a make or break year, everything has to come together both performance-wise and a seat has to open up and a lot of other stuff has to come together and in that sense it is a make or break year.

From a sports psychology point of view, does admitting it publicly before the season give you an added motivation each time you’re in the cockpit, or can it also add a bit of pressure?

I think it’s a bit of both. There’s always going to be pressure when you’re racing, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a make or break year but I think, even if I didn’t say it, everyone knows that. Like I said, I’m looking at it more as an opportunity than putting too much pressure on myself. I’m with a team that has had great results in the past. They have a great history in all championships that they have participated in so like I said, I have the tools with me now. It’s all up to me to perform and get the best results possible.

What are you expecting to do differently this season?

My end goal is obviously to win the championship but I don’t want to look that far ahead. I want to take it race by race. Now we have a test coming up in Bahrain, the main thing for me is to get a bit more comfortable with the car and with the team with all the new procedures and make sure I’m fully ready for Round 1 in Bahrain.

Red Bull have groomed top guys like Verstappen and Vettel, you’re with them for the third consecutive year, what has your experience with the junior team been like?

It’s been really good. We get a lot of support from them off-the-track but not only that, they let us be ourselves which is also really good. They also gave us that platform where you achieve results if you do well. They have a junior team in F1 for us to go there which is a great opportunity for young drivers so I’m really happy and proud to be part of this program.

You had 2 wins and a total of 5 podium finishes in 2021, what is the one big learning in the past year that you will carry forward this season?

I achieved good results but I also had some bad ones so this year is more about being consistent, not having many bad results. There are fourteen races this year so whoever is the fastest and most consistent driver of the season is going to end up as the winner so yeah, my goal is to be as fast as I can and also be consistent.

If you had to point out your biggest improvement in the last year, what would it be?

The biggest place I improved last year was my race starts. They were pretty good all year, so that gives you a bit more confidence when you’re starting at the front, you can get off the line and have a good race instead of worrying about the start process.

With the Bahrain Grand Prix barely a month away, what’s the preparation looking like?

The preparation is pretty intense, both physically and mentally. I’m off to Italy where for four-five days, I’ll just be preparing for the test coming up. We will go through all our plans, procedures, get on the stimulator there as well. I was at the simulator at Red Bull a couple of days ago. So, we’re doing everything we can to prepare as well as we can for every meeting. After the test in Bahrain, we have another couple of days in Italy to talk about the test to again build-up for the next event so all in all, we are preparing as well as we can.

You had mentioned in an interview with Red Bull that the win in Monza was your most dominant race but Jeddah was actually your most memorable one... particularly the battle w Oscar Piastri, could you walk me through what was going on in your mind in the cockpit?

After the safety car re-start in that race, I had a big lock-up into Turn 1 and I flat-spotted my front tyre. Halfway around the lap, I actually told my engineer that I might have to pit because I couldn’t really see anything at all and that the tyre is really bad. I think, from the outside, it is hard for everyone to see but from the inside, it was my best race. I was like a roadblock in the corner, so I was really, really slow. I had a really bad front left tyre. Even on the straight, I could barely see anything. In my mind... I had not been told that I had a penalty, so I was fighting for the win the whole time and in fact, the lap that I was told that I should stop fighting him because you have a five-second penalty was when I didn’t block anymore and he got by me. Considering the pace I had, I was at least one second slower than I could have been with the flat-spotted tyre and I still managed to keep him behind the whole race so I think, that is why it was my best drive.

Which circuit are you most looking forward to in 2022?

Actually, even though I did not have a great weekend last year in Monaco... to bounce back from not a good weekend last year, I want to turn things around this year and show everyone that no matter what track I am at, I can be as fast as anyone.