Arjun Maini does look committed to what being a professional racing driver means. He revises his agenda before confirming an allocated time for our interview (no, this proceeding is not usual at all among F2 drivers), and he obliges himself to the activity. There can be no doubt that his relationship with Haas F1 Team has helped to educate him in the PR area. We take advantage of having seen him heading to the F1 paddock in Haas team kit a few hours ago, to start the Q&A with his F1 links.
How is your relationship with Haas going and what does it mean to you?
AM: I think that for me it’s a really important step for my career, when I became a development driver, and to be a part of a Formula 1 team. The first time I was surprised by how different everything is. It allows me to get a lot more experience to see how F1 teams operate, being part of the meetings, the briefings… trying to collect as much information and trying to learn as much as I can. This way if suddenly I get a chance, I’m not in shock, because I know what to do and how it should be done. I’ve got a lot of experience from this, which for me is really important.
Are you expecting to get into an F1 simulator any time soon?
AM: Of course, at the minute they ask me I’m ready to go to the simulator in Maranello. They use the one at Ferrari. I’ve not done anything this year and we don’t have any plans on the sim, but let’s see in 2019.
How do you sum up this first half of the season for you?
AM: I think this season’s really been up and down. It started really well, in pre-season testing we were quite strong. But we’ve been quite unlucky sometimes this year In Baku and Paul Ricard we had some issues, but in the end we have kept working really hard, and a lot of people had issues, it wasn’t only me taking all the pain. Within the team we’ve been working really hard to get back to where we started in terms of pace. I think we are there or thereabouts, but we need to make a small step forward. Obviously it’s important to get a good strategy in race one. We are not far away. In the end it’s not been too bad for a first year, I think.
Were those the results that you expected when you joined Trident?
AM: No, I was expecting a lot better, to be honest.
Which moment has been the best for you in this first half of the season?
AM: Pace-wise, probably Monaco. Strong all weekend, really fast, especially in Race 1. I was the best rookie in all the sessions. Both Race 1 and Race 2 were quite strong for me.
And the worst one?
AM: Pace-wise I struggled a lot in Barcelona. It was a strange scenario, because it was the only time when we lacked pace this season. But the worst feeling probably was Race 1 at Baku, when I was running in the Top 5 but we had a small issue and had to retire. So feeling-wise probably it was Baku, but pace-wise it was Barcelona.
Now in GP3 Beckmann has done the same move as you: moving from Jenzer to Trident. What advice would you give him to adapt to the new culture?
AM: Well, it is basically jumping from a philosophy of setting up a car, to a new one. Each one has positives and negatives, so the main thing is to keep your head down and learn what it is new around you. Both are very, very good teams. I was win Jenzer and really saw the team. So in the end it’s just learning what are the positives and negatives, and try to convert all the negatives into positives.
What do you mean by a different philosophy between Jenzer and Trident?
AM: I think that when I was with Jenzer we were a lot quicker in races than in qualifying. This was a strength of Jenzer, because they are really good at getting tyre degradation right. Trident is fast in qualifying, but they can still make it work in the race. They are different ways of thinking, but they both work.
Have you talked to Santino after the Silverstone race?
AM: No contact since then. To be honest, he’s gone through a lot of stress because of what happened, and he’s still young. So it’s probably difficult for him to deal with all this. Over time he will learn that what he did was not right. And become a better person and a better driver. At the minute, we’ve had no contact, but I respect his pace.
How did you become interested in racing cars?
AM: It was my father who used to race in open races in India. My father bought me a go-kart when I was five. Since then, once you get into racing, it doesn’t leave you. And then it became serious and I started to do karting races, but all was thanks to my dad.
Have you ever tested a racing Maruti?
AM: Yes, I tested it one day. My first time in a formula car was with a Formula Maruti. It was strange. It’s a small car, of course, and I was six years old when I tried it. At first the car is big.
Would you be able to convince me of buying a Reva from your uncle?
AM: Yes, of course. I have a Reva and it’s a great car. Honestly, I still drive it in India. Especially in Bangalore, where the traffic is high, it’s quite easy to move through the city.
What advice have you been given by Karun Chandhok?
AM: Karun has been of massive help through my career. A lot of the times his judgements were absolutely correct. He’s guided me to where I had to be, and I think that I’m here now because he’s spent a lot of time advising me. It’s why we’re in F2, because we’ve taken the right route, so I have to thank Karun a lot for that.
What feelings do you have about the uncertain future of Force India?
AM: Force India improved themselves as a team. I was a part of the academy when I started. It’s no good for the sport what’s happening there. They’re a really good team. What they can do with a limited budget is unbelievable. I’ve heard some rumours about what’s happening with it. To lose Force India would be a big loss for the sport.
What measures would you take to promote motorsport in your country?
AM: I think that motorsport is growing still in India. But the issue there is that they need a hero to follow. It’s the same in all sports. When there is one, motorsport in general will become quite popular. For me the best way to help motorsport in India is to win races. The new karters look strong and let’s see how it’s going. There are strong championships in India, with some really good drivers. Younger drivers are in F3; my brother Kush is doing a good job in British F3.
How difficult is to find sponsorship in India as of today?
AM: It’s difficult, but not only in India. It’s difficult nowadays for motorsport in general at this time.
Maybe some other people have taught you a lesson or two? For example, has Narain talked to you? And Vijay?
AM: Not really. I’ve not been in touch with Narain. And the last time I met Vijay was in 2011.
You have made some complaints about the 2018 car at some point in the season. How do you feel now about all the problems that you have endured?
AM: At first, everybody expected some problems to happen with the new car, because our budgets are not unlimited to go testing, so everybody was expecting a bit of trouble. But there were unexpected problems that came in quite early in the season. Of course, at one point I had some issues which was not perfect. To be honest, the F2 organization did everything they could to fix it. When I had the issues it was fixed straight away by the next round. To be honest, when it comes to race starts I’m not sure what to say, because I haven’t stalled even once. Let’s say that it was always on the limit. It was difficult to get off the line, but it was not impossible. I just think that some of the teams did a better job understanding the clutch map than others.
Despite not having issues with it, did you ever consider to change the clutch map as a precaution?
AM: To be honest, I don’t want to say it because I don’t know what the situation was with others. It could have been that they had a more aggressive clutch map or whatever, that for me was on the limit but for them it was over it. So it wouldn’t be fair to say anything, But, in our team, we didn’t have problems.
Do you feel that your brother Kush can become quicker than you at some point?
AM: He’s really fast. I’m sure he’ll go well in motorsport. It will be interesting to see how we will end up.
You’ve taken advantage of the psychological part of being a racing driver. Can you teach us some tricks to perform better in our areas?
AM: I think that the most important and difficult thing is to try to keep your mind as clear as possible. When you’re coming in the day to day, there’s too many things in your mind that can affect your driving, so the main thing is trying to be as relaxed as possible at every moment and use less mental energy. Your job is in the car, so there’s no point worrying about yesterday in the morning or the previous night, because you’re wasting energy and stressing for nothing. So don’t worry, be relaxed, confident just do your job when it matters and don’t think too much about it. Stay in the moment, don’t think ahead and don’t think too much about the mistake that you could make; accept whatever happens.
It wasn’t going to be this weekend when finally Maini and Trident would find that lost pace since pre-season testing. More on the contrary, the Saturday race was compromised by a poor balance, in a situation uncharacteristic of Trident according to Maini’s words. Race 2 was even worse, ending up 14th. Fortunately, Arjun Maini knows better than anyone how to focus on the next opportunity…