At 9, he went for his first race training course, a day before an exam.
At 13, he moved to England to stay in a boarding school because the racing facilities were better there.
At 18, he became the first Indian to win a Grand Prix in motorsport.
Meet Jehan Daruvala, the teenager from Mumbai, who won the 2017 New Zealand GP beating the likes of Pedro Piquet son of former world champion Nelson Piquet, and Thomas Randle who won the Toyota Racing Series.
When he won the New Zealand Grand Prix at the Chris Amon Circuit earlier in February, he got his name on a trophy previously held by drivers such as Keke Rosberg, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren.
For the 18-year-old from Mumbai, which does not even have a professional racing track, to be part of such illustrious company must be a momentous occasion.
“It’s a really big deal for me after the ups and downs in the championship (where he finished fifth overall) having most pole positions and most front rows, I really wanted to finish first. It’s obviously a big race, the past winners are Sir Stewart, Keke Rosberg etc, so to have my name on the trophy means a lot to me. To be honest, I was literally willing to do anything to win the race so qualifying on pole was a good start,” he said.
Even as he expresses this sentiment, he reveals he has bigger plans. “There are only three Grand Prix outside Formula 1 and to be the first Indian to win a Grand Prix means a lot to me. Hopefully I am racing in one more GP this year, so let’s see…” he says.
Racing firsts are nothing new for Jehan – he is the first Indian to reach the podium in any FIA World Championship event, when he finished as second runner up at the FIA CIK World Karting Championship in 2014. Before that, he was the first Indian to win a Karting Championship in Europe when he won the British KF3 Championship. In 2012, he became the first Indian to win a CIK Championship when we won the FIA CIK Asia Pacific KF3 Championship in Macau.
How it all began
Car racing, and not just karting, as a competitive sport is an unusual career option for a youngster from Mumbai. So how did the journey begin?
“Since I was a child I used to watch Formula 1 on TV. I enjoyed it and wanted to make it my career since I was eight or nine but we didn’t know there was anything like go karting or racing. But one day my dad was on a plane and he saw an advertisement by Rayomand Banajee in the papers about this training course, so I went there. I was nine then and had to convince my mum because I had my English exam the next day. I went there and raced and Rayomand said that he sees some spark in me, he thought I could make it so that’s how I started racing,” Jehan says recounting his first foray into what would be his full-time passion soon.
Then youngster eventually took up racing seriously and hasn’t looked back since then. Once he got the support of the Sahara Force India Academy, Jehan went into full gear, moving to another country at only 13 years of to pursue his offbeat career.
“In my first three years I didn’t really know how everything is going to plan out I just played it as a game and then once I became part of the Force India Academy I was confident that this is what I want to do for a living and so I took the decision to move abroad at 13 and study in a boarding school which had several of my racing friends, because all the testing was in England,” Jehan adds.
It is apparent that this move at the age when most kids are still playing sports for fun has impacted Jehan, who seems to be very level-headed and focused for an 18-year-old.
“I knew I had to do it so I made up my mind to live alone. Being independent since that age, travelling on my own I think that has matured me quite quickly and it has helped,” he says. “Even though a lot of people have questioned my parents about sending their son away and about how it is really risky, they respected my decision.”
Racing as a sport in India
Another major factor in his rise as a racer has been the Force India’s entry into Formula 1. “Having an Indian team makes a big difference, it attracts Indian supporters. I am very proud of them and also the help they have given me through my career, they have always put me in the best teams, given me the best coaches and given me the best possible chances,” he says.
While Force India has given motorsports a massive boost in India in terms of audience, has the infrastructure and opportunities for drivers changed?
“Racing has grown through the past few years in India I can see that the MRF attracts some foreign drivers in India which is good. But when you race in India and then go abroad it is a lot more competitive there are a lot more drivers. Motorsports is growing in India but it still needs to come up more,” he concludes.
There are several other issues in place, not least being the infrastructure. The closest track to Mumbai is in Kolhapur, and that is a lot of travel for someone who needs to practice regularly. “When I was racing Kolhapur was the closest track for me, I used to go every two weekends to Kolhapur I used to leave early in the morning and go testing two days. Having no professional track in Mumbai does make a difference because you get less time and have to adjust soon,” he says.
Jehan has now set his sights on his debut at the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, a competition that has a track record of producing some of the world’s best Formula 1 stars, the latest being Max Verstappen.
“Max has shown everyone in the world that the standard of drivers and the level is obviously pretty high in Formula 1. He only finished third in Formula 3 and (Esteban) Ocon won that year and now even Ocon is in Formula 1. So they both moved from Formula 3 to Formula 1 pretty quickly. It also shows Formula 1 teams that drivers in junior formulas are pretty fast and are ready to move on,” the self-confessed Fernando Alonso fan added.
While Verstappen maybe called ‘Mad Max’ for his aggressive brand of racing that got him a ticket to Formula 1, Jehan seems to be far more patient when it comes to his future. The maturity he mentioned is on display again, when he talks about his goals. “My target is to reach Formula 1 but I am still young and I am not in a rush to get there. I want to do and learn as much as I can in junior Formulas in order to get there when I am fully ready,” he asserts.
With the way his career trajectory has progressed, it isn’t hard to see him reach that goal a few years down the line and perhaps achieve yet another Indian ‘first’, this time on the Formula 1 stage.