“You think it's gonna be a step up, but it's more than you can ever imagine,” Kush Maini, Indian F2 driver talks about his first proper Formula 1 test

Kush Maini tested the BWT Alpine F1 Team's 2022 car, the A522, during a test session at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
Kush Maini tested the BWT Alpine F1 Team's 2022 car, the A522
Kush Maini tested the BWT Alpine F1 Team's 2022 car, the A522BWT Alpine F1 Team

The Formula 1 driver market is hotting up with a number of big moves announced already but there are still a few seats up for grabs. With Esteban Ocon's departure from the BWT Alpine F1 Team at the end of this season, a vacancy has opened up which Kush Maini is vying for. Formula 2 racer has been part of the Alpine Academy programme since October 2023 and was given the opportunity to test the BWT Alpine F1 Team's 2022 car, the A522, at the Red Bull Ring. The Invicta Racing driver has been making waves for his strong performances in the earlier part of the 2024 F2 season, but of late, his form has tapered off and he currently holds ninth in the standings.

He sat down with the media after his first F1 test of the 2024 season to talk about his test experience, his future plans, his goals, and his relationships with his brother Arjun Maini, mentor Mika Hakkinen, and the Alpine Academy as a whole. He also sheds light on how F1 cars differ from other categories in terms of driving, physical and mental preparation, and engineering.

As told during a road table with the media.

On stepping up from F3 to F2

"Last year was my first year in F2. It was a good year to get into it, and getting that podium and finishing close to the top ten in the championship was very positive. This year we went in with expectations to fight for the championship. In the first few races, we got a pole, we got two podiums, and we were consistently one of the quickest cars on track, which was very positive, and Alpine and Invicta were really happy with the performance. The last two races haven't been amazing due to a few things out of our control, but we found out what it was, and changes are being made for Barcelona in the next race, and I'm sure we'll be back to where we should be."

On his targets and road map to get to F1

“The target is quite clear to do as well as I can this year in every race. I'm very motivated to be back to where we should be after the last two weekends that didn't really go our way, so there is a lot of expectation this year, but I feel we've delivered every time we've had the chance to, and the last two races have been a bit unfortunate and we haven't had the chance to show what we're capable of. Obviously, ending this year on a high would strengthen my chances of making it to F1 next year, but I'm not even thinking about that because I know that without performing in F2, there's no talk of F1, so that's my only goal.”

On the Alpine Academy’s role in his development

“It's been very beneficial. They're keeping an eye on me; they have team personnel on track to help me with anything I'm struggling with, and without them, we wouldn't have figured out as quickly what was going wrong these last two weekends, so they're a massive help, and they really believe in me, and they really do treat me like a prospect in the future for F1, which is the most important thing. Obviously, finishing this test in F1 was an amazing achievement for me and my career, and their helping me through that and teaching me so much is priceless, and to have Alpine is something I take massive honour, and I think it's helping me so much this year.”

On his brother, Arjun Maini

“Arjun is actually doing DTM at the moment. He was a development driver for Haas F1, and it's very fortunate for me to have a brother doing the same sport because you sort of learn from his experiences, and he's sort of the guinea pig in some ways, and that paved the way for me and helped me. I speak to him so often anytime I'm struggling on track or if I'm having a tough day. He's one of the first people I call. He's in my support system very deeply, and I definitely wouldn't be where I am without him, so it's a massive asset to have someone like him.”

On his mentor, Mika Hakkinen 

“He's there most weekends, and we talk. After a bad weekend like these two weekends, it's as a racing driver very tough for your self-confidence, and speaking to Mika and understanding that it was out of our control, and him sort of still having that confidence in me, and that's something that's huge coming from my childhood hero. He's basically the guy who structured my whole team on track with my physio; he has a look at all my training and always has his thoughts, and he gives me advice, not necessarily on the racing part, but on everything because he knows what it takes to be the best in the world, and just having someone who can shed some light on that is priceless.”

On the experience of driving an F1 car

“You think it's gonna be a step up, but it's more than you can ever imagine. It's so much more downforce. The cars are just at the pinnacle of what we do in our sport at the limit of the rules, and they're so quick through the fast corners. At the Red Bull Ring, we're going five to six seconds quicker than what I did in F2, so it's a complete step above. The g-forces you feel, my neck still hurts. It's like somebody sat on my neck, but it's something you can't really prepare for; it was just unreal. The first session was sort of getting into it, but then as soon as the first session was done, it was again going for lap time and trying to be as quick as I could and tweak the car. Obviously, in F1, you can actually tweak the balance as you go through the lap. You have to alter the diff, which is basically how much lock you want to put on the diff or unlock the diff for the understeer or oversteer, so it's leaps and bounds ahead of the F2 car in terms of all the procedures, but it's just an unreal experience, and I'm so lucky to have been able to do it.” 

On his goals for next year

“I think F1 is the goal; that's my only goal at the moment, and this test has shown me how much I really want to reach that goal. I think my immediate goal is Formula 2, and I know that performing well in Formula 2 will open these doors, and this test for sure has been a massive booster because Alpine now knows that I am capable of driving a Formula 1 car quickly, and feedback has been really good, and they've been really happy with the test, so still, you have to perform in Formula 2, and that's my immediate goal.”

On the engineering leap from F2 to F1

“I would say I could get into it really quick because, from a driver's point of view, it's just that you can change the differential of the brake migration when you go on the brake, where the brake goes at the end of the corner. You want it to go rearwards or forwards if you're struggling with something or the torque of the rear wheels. So it's sort of like general things that you learn from a young age, but you're changing them on track, going 320kmph, so if you change something wrong, you can just have a massive snap around the next corner. But on the engineering side, it was such a big leap. I remember when I was in my first session, I was sitting there and I was asking one of my race engineers a question, and he was like, wait, let me just call the aero guy. So in F2, you have one person, two people, and you're asking everything to, and here there's like aero, tyres, systems, and batteries; there's like 12 engineers, and if you have a certain question, you have to go sit with the right engineer because they're solely focused on that one topic. So it's so much more fine-tuning, so much more focus, and so much more professionalism, and that was the main thing I really noticed from the engineering side.” 

On the physical and mental preparation for his F1 test

“A lot of physical preparation goes into the back of Formula 1. For me, honestly, it was just the neck and the forces your core and your body feel. It's got power steering, which is easier than F2, so in many ways, it's actually easier to drive; it's just that the shock comes to the neck and the whole torso. So that's why we spent a lot of time training it, but you're never going to train enough to get into a F1 car. The best training is to drive it. In terms of mental prep, there definitely was a lot of pressure going into the test because, even though it's not make or break in a way, with Formula 1 teams, they don't have time. They have so many drivers waiting that, if I was pushing the limits and I crashed, and it's an expensive crash, i'm for sure in their minds crossed out, but having that successful test and Alpine being really happy with the way I was working and my feedback and my professionalism brought me a slight step closer. If I am in front of Formula 2, I am a serious contender for the seat, so mentally going into it, I was very stressed. It's tough because you want to go in and want to be the fastest, but I can't crash and I can't make mistakes, so it's a very fine line. But once I was in the car, it gave me so much confidence. The engineering team was amazing; they got me up to speed so quickly, and once I got going, there was no fear or stress. I was just driving the car, and it was an unbelievable experience.”

On future F1 testing plans

“In terms of Formula 1, I'm doing three more days of testing like this one. I'm not sure of the track yet, but three days are confirmed, and obviously the rest of my Formula 2 plans will all depend on my Formula 2 season. Alpine obviously knows I'm capable of doing it, but at the end, you still have to show it to the world, and that's where I have the chance in Formula 2. So I think we're just going to have to wait and see what happens there.” 

On choosing between F1 and Formula E

KM: “Formula 1! Obviously, working with Mahindra and doing that test was a great experience, and again, it's at the pinnacle of what they're doing, and the engineering level is super high, and I learned so much from them. It was an enjoyable experience, and it is the pinnacle of some motorsports. In my opinion, Formula 1 has always been my goal and my dream, and I feel I'm closer to it than ever. Having finally driven the car, I think that makes me even hungrier, like I said, to get back into a full-time seat. But yeah, we just have to see how Formula 2 goes, but right now, Formula 1 is my dream and my goal.”

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