DARSHAN CHOKHANI | 30 JANUARY, 2018
“The highs were really good and the lows were really low”
For any sportsperson, performance is a key factor. The moment it goes down even a bit, it takes huge steps to get back into the right momentum. Indian racer Arjun Maini went through such phase in the 2017 GP3 Series.
In his first full year in the junior championship, Maini started off handsomely with a win in the very first weekend in Barcelona. It was the same weekend when he was announced as the new Haas F1 Team’s development driver.
But his performance took a bad turn in the second round in Red Bull Ring after couple of mistakes in the two races put him in a difficult position to recover. He fought back in Silverstone, but reliability issues hampered his progress in Hungary.
Like a roller coaster, he rose back at Spa-Francorchamps but the rounds in Monza and Jerez totally disrupted any confidence gained. A brief break allowed him to end the season on a better note with a podium in Abu Dhabi, as he ended up ninth in the standings with 72 points.
Such has been the bar set, that even a Top 10 result also seems less considering what it could have been. His teammate Alessio Lorandi in his first full season was seventh with a win and three podiums to his name, finishing full 20 points ahead of the Indian.
“It was bit of a roller coaster ride,” said Maini exclusively, looking back on the season. “The highs were really good and the lows were really low. A lot of the lows were out of my control, out of the team’s control like Hungary where we had issues in qualifying and Race 1 where nothing could be done about.
“We had an unfortunate crash in Monza and with the rain in qualifying, it didn’t allow us to qualify well. So, a lot of things didn’t go our way. But in general, as a driver I have improved a lot. I think whenever we have had a chance, we have shown our pace and the speed.
“Also, to end the season with a podium, it was perfect because it shows where we can be when everything goes our way. The championship position wasn’t great in the end, but we know where the potential was.
“In a way I am happy, but of course, I am disappointed with the result because you always want to be on the top, but I think these things you have to accept and move on,” he added. When asked where he think he lost his way, Maini pinned the round in Red Bull Ring.
The Bangalorean admitted to making ‘lots of mistakes’ which hampered his momentum from Round 1, despite the team not having the outright pace on the circuit. “I think I made a rookie mistake to let the pressure get to me. I started over-driving and started to make lots of mistakes.
“Also, not driving naturally, that affected me. Those two races [in Red Bull Ring] I lost a lot of points and I dropped down in the championship. I fought back in Silverstone but you can’t just get back, you have to build the confidence slowly,” he explained.
“The round in Jerez was painful. I just had no feeling. I don’t want to blame the car because that would be wrong but I didn’t gel with the car because Alessio did a good job. Of course, he had some different set-ups to me but that’s always the case.
“It happens sometimes that drivers don’t like the feel with some set-ups and if you don’t have the confidence you won’t go anywhere. I was really at the back in qualifying, the race pace was better but what can you do when you are in Jerez where’s there little chance to overtake,” he said.
When the results don’t go your way, it is always affecting one’s performances and mentally one has to recover quickly so as to fight back during the season itself. For a young driver, with the amount of money involved, a driver is always under pressure to perform.
“I’ll be honest, it was really difficult mentally because before the season I know I didn’t say it out but I wanted to win the championship. When the results don’t go your way, it gets difficult because you know you have the speed, but sometimes things don’t go together and eventually it starts to affect you.
“I think the support I had from my psychiatrist Dr. Shree Advani, that was a massive help and then my engineer Nicolas Caillol, they kept me grounded. They kept the belief in me despite being critical to anything I am doing wrong and at the same time, I am critical with them if I feel that they can improve on something,” he explained.
His mentor and ex-Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok believes Maini matured as a racer over the season. He admitted to an ‘up and down’ year for his protege and conceded that it was tough to challenge the title-winning ART Grand Prix team.
But overall, Chandhok was happy with his progress especially with his race pace and tyre management, along with his Haas simulator runs being its development driver. With Maini set to continue in the role in 2018, the Indian expects more running for the young driver in the simulator in the coming season.
At the same time, Haas F1 Team’s Guenther Steiner reiterated his earlier statement that Maini needs more time in the junior ladder and definitely has the ‘potential’ to make it to the top level. “He has got the talent,” said Steiner exclusively. “He showed in BRDC F4 and I think he can make it.
“It’s just that there are a lot of people who want to get to F1 and there’s only a few who get there, but I think for sure at the moment, he’s one of the good ones in GP3 and for sure he’s the best Indian. We will see how we fix our test programme for 2018. He did a few simulator runs for us [in 2017] and we see how we can utilize him more [in 2018].”
Steiner added that the response from the engineers on him has been good. “The feedback [of him] was very good. The engineers always…I wouldn’t say try to trick the drivers…but try to challenge them by setting things up different and see if it troubles him and he was very good at it. They have been very positive about it,” he said.
Aside the up and down season, Maini felt improvement in the two particular areas he had set out for himself in 2017. One is his qualifying performance and the other is the race starts. Even though there is always room for further improvements, but in general the 20-year-old thinks he has done enough with the little more aggression during the course of the season.
Amid all that, the lone win at the start of the season for Maini aroused a lot of emotions from him to the extent that it brought tears hearing the national anthem played on the podium. For him, his first win in the circumstances where he had to fend off Trident’s Dorian Boccolacci was something special which has left him with a sparkling memory.