Jehan Daruvala on his McLaren F1 test: ‘The best two days ever’

Every young driver dreams about the moment they first set foot in a Formula 1 car, and for one Formula 2 starlet, that time came last week at Silverstone Circuit. In a guest appearance on this week’s F1 Feeder Series Podcast, Prema Racing’s Jehan Daruvala told us all about his maiden F1 test with the McLaren F1 Team.

By F1 Feeder Series

Across the two-day test on 21 and 22 June, Daruvala completed 130 laps in McLaren’s 2021 challenger, the MCL35M. The car won the 2021 Italian Grand Prix in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo and took the team to fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship.

Daruvala has been a member of the Red Bull Junior Team since 2020, the same year that he ascended to F2. In his third F2 season, the Prema driver sits third in the standings, with five podiums to his name.

Daruvala effused about the test experience on the F1 Feeder Series Podcast, describing it as ‘the most fun [he has] ever had in a race car’.

“Silverstone, for my first time in Formula 1, it’s probably the best track to drive on. I still can’t really describe it. The amount of downforce that these cars produce is pretty insane.

“We do corners in a Formula 1 car on race fuel, flat out, which aren’t even flat out in Formula 2 and in qualifying, arriving a lot slower. It was hard to get my head around it.

“But once you trust the car, you know … even though I was doing a lot of laps and my body was getting tired, every time I jumped in, I had a smile on my face. It’s the most fun I ever had in a race car. Hopefully there’s another one coming around the corner.”

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Encouragement from Marko

Though he may be a member of the Red Bull Junior Team, Daruvala faced no restrictions in testing for McLaren, a rival of the Red Bull and AlphaTauri F1 squads. In fact, Daruvala revealed that Helmut Marko, the junior team’s adviser, encouraged him to complete the test in order to gain more experience behind the wheel of an F1 car.

“The main thing was to do Formula 1 mileage. The only way to do them this year with Red Bull was in an official FP1 session. They weren’t running the AlphaTauri test car at any point this year; Dr Marko made it pretty clear,” Daruvala said.

“My management and my dad obviously had a chat with Mr Marko. For him, it was a no-brainer to drive a Formula 1 car for one of his junior drivers.

“It’s always good learning, and if ever I get the opportunity in the future – if it is in a free practice or any other test – I’ve already had a couple of days experience. So it always does help. That’s the good part about being in the Red Bull Junior Team: they allow us to explore our routes and give us opportunities when they arise.”

That’s the good part about being in the Red Bull Junior Team: they allow us to explore our routes and give us opportunities when they arise

Jehan Daruvala

Feeling his way around the car

Daruvala couldn’t just jump in the car and start setting hot laps. He told F1 Feeder Series that ahead of the test, he spent several days practicing on the simulator and learning about the steering wheel and the car’s electronics.

“I first did a couple of days in the simulator. I asked if I could have like the steering wheel book and stuff to learn … Now I understand why they didn’t give it to me before I went there because I would be completely blank!

“When I went there and did a couple days in the sim, driving fast was one thing, but the main thing was actually learning the procedures of the car – what to do with what buttons in case something goes wrong, the engine. If you don’t have live telemetry, you can’t run. That’s how a lot of things work.

“Even about the controlling my nerves and stuff, I constantly had to focus on buttons and things that I had to do that you kind of don’t think about actually being nervous and driving. In the beginning, you’re just trying to make sure that you’re all out of the pits and everything is safe.”

Driving fast was one thing, but the main thing was actually learning the procedures of the car

Jehan Daruvala on his preparation for the F1 test

Indeed, the McLaren team emphasised safety in Daruvala’s test, bringing in personnel from Mercedes, the team’s power unit supplier, to explain how the car’s internal mechanics worked.

“When I did arrive there, they had a Mercedes engine guy to run me through the safety stuff. And I was almost thinking he was trying to scare me.

“He was like, ‘Oh, this thing is like a thousand degrees. Don’t touch it. You’ll be burnt like that!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, are you trying to scare me the day before I drive a Formula 1 car?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the whole point!’

“He was like, ‘If you’re not in the car, don’t touch it. Stay away.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, that’s clear.’”

Relishing a historic moment

The weight of driving for the legendary McLaren team was not lost on Daruvala, who also carries on his shoulders the hopes of the more than 1.3 billion people living in his home nation of India. Daruvala was previously affiliated with the Force India F1 team after placing third in its ‘One in a Billion’ competition in 2011, which sought to find the next Indian F1 driver. If he were to ascend to Formula 1, he would become the third Indian driver in the premier category after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.

The McLaren test crucially earned Daruvala the final points required for an FIA Super License, which grants him eligibility to compete in Formula 1. A smile spread across his face as he told F1 Feeder Series about what the experience, arranged through McLaren’s Testing Previous Car programme, meant to him.

“McLaren are obviously a very historic team, won many world championships. [With] the 2021 car, they are running a test program, and I mean I would never say no.

“It’s probably one of the fastest cars ever in Formula 1 history, [that] generation of cars, and to get that opportunity, together with everyone supporting me and my management, we made it possible. And it was probably the best two days ever,” Daruvala said.

With everyone supporting me and my management, we made it possible. And it was probably the best two days ever.

Jehan Daruvala

“To have Silverstone to myself itself was a big deal, and then to have that in a Formula 1 car was extremely special.”

Daruvala will be hoping that the F1 test experience can propel him to success as Formula 2 returns for its seventh round, also at Silverstone, from 1–3 July.

Header photo credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

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