Jehan Daruvala is tipped to become the third Indian to reach Formula 1 after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok
With COVID-19 cases rising rapidly in India, Formula 1 hopeful Jehan Daruvala is relieved to have made a tough but "right call" to take a special Air India flight to London last month, leaving him in the best possible place ahead of the racing season beginning next month.
Daruvala, whose blossoming career got a shot in the arm when he was signed by Red Bull for its junior driver programme this year, would have been "stuck" in India before the start of his maiden Formula 2 season, a support series to Formula 1, if he had not the boarded the flight from Mumbai three weeks ago.
"I had no choice to be honest. If the season was going to start in July which I thought it would and if India was going to get worse, I would have been stuck," Daruvala said.
"I had to take the risk. I was going to come here and self-quarantine anyway. It was a tough choice to make but we made the right one," he said.
India is inching towards three lakh COVID-19 cases, while his hometown Mumbai has crossed the 50,000 mark.
It was a repatriation flight for the Indians stuck in London and being exposed to infection during the long journey was a risk but the 21-year-old had no option.
He got the necessary documents from his Formula 2 team Carlin and four-time Formula 1 Champions Red Bull to be able travel to the UK. Both the Championships begin in Austria in the first week of July.
With most routine tasks in life becoming strenuous in the wake of the pandemic, flying too has become a laborious experience. The passengers are required to follow strict safety protocols.
Recalling the unusual experience, Daruvala said: "We took all the required safety precautions and it worked pretty okay. It is what is is. You have to be be cautious of your surroundings and take precautions and think that 'you will be fine'. It was an evacuation flight, so there were a lot of procedures. In the end, I was here (in London) where I needed to be. Now I have to figure out how I will be flying to Austria," said Daruvala, who is tipped to become the third Indian to reach Formula 1 after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.
Daruvala made an instant impact in the pre-season testing in Bahrain by topping one of the sessions.
He knows he needs to build on the third place finish in Formula 3 last season but is not reading too much into his performance in the Formula 2 pre-season testing.
"It is hard to go by the testing results but it went as well as it could. I got used to the car quite quickly. Happy that we will be finally racing now."
For the first two months into the lockdown, Daruvala got much-needed time with family in Mumbai. And when he needed to get into the preparation mode, he was able to reach London.
Asked how the forced break affected him mentally, Daruvala said: "To be honest, not too bad. It is the same for everyone, it is a worldwide crisis and all you can do is prepare mentally and that is what I did. I have also been working hard on my fitness. Just can't wait to get to racing now. It is time to prepare for the season. Now that I am done with self quarantine, I will be going to the team workshop and visit the Red Bull factory."
Daruvala acknowledged the added pressure going into his rookie Formula 2 season.
"Now that I am one step away from Formula 1, it does change things a bit. There is added pressure that if you perform well, there is a possibility of reaching Formula 1. That is always there at the back of the mind. The goal has always been to be in Formula 1. So, I rather focus on doing well, win races and see how the season pans out," he said before adding that he should be back to his best by round one.