Motorsport Talkies | A conversation with Arjun Maini
Arjun Maini is a 23 year old Indian driver, driving for Mercedes-AMG Team Getspeed in the 2021 DTM season. He has raced in many different formats starting from open-wheel class all the way to endurance racing. Legend has it that Arjun started karting from the age of five and since then, he hasn't left the steering wheel since. So, we sat down with Maini to get an insight into DTM and his perspective on his first season in the championship.
Akaash Bhadra : How would you say your DTM season has been so far?
Arjun Maini : It's been a bit up and down I guess. At the start, we really got hampered by a lot of bad luck and the pace wasn’t quite (there) in the beginning of the season. Although at Lausitzring, I was the fastest qualifier in a Mercedes. You know, there were glimpses of the speed, but not consistently there and then I think the last few rounds, it sort of come back a bit with a bit more consistency. And on this, I have been able to consistently perform. Ofcourse, Assen was another unlucky one. But apart from that, in the Red Bull Ring, we were quite strong. If we didn’t have the bad pit stop there, we would have been on the podium already. So I guess it’s not so bad, for my first year in DTM, but of course you always want to be fighting at the top end. So yeah, it's been a bit mixed. A lot of good, a lot of things that could have been a lot better, and of course a little bit of luck has to be on your side. But other than that, it has all started to come together. But now, we have come to the end of the season, so I am looking forward to the last few rounds.
Akaash Bhadra: Could you tell how different DTM racing is when compared to other formats you’ve raced in?
Arjun Maini: It might sound weird, but it's almost like being back in go-karting, you know. With the gaps being so close (between the DTM cars), it's just like karting. I mean if you look at the qualifying results of Assen in Race 2, you would see that if I gained one-tenth (of a second), I would have moved up from P8 to P3 or P4 or something. And a two-tenth just pole. Usually that’s a gap seen between P1 and P2 or even more in other series. So it shows how close everyone is, how good everyone is and it's crazy considering that there are five to six different manufacturers on the grid as well. So, it's way closer than anything I’ve experienced before. A small mistake puts you from being in the front to being at the back. In qualifying, you really need to nail in your lap. So yeah, it’s different to the past (formats) I’ve raced in. Of course in terms of racing, it's a lot more aggressive, a lot more compact. So yeah, it took some time to get used to in the first few races, like I wasn’t aggressive enough and like the others sort of got past me. I had to learn how to race these sort of cars and yeah, you just have to be really aggressive.
Akaash Bhadra: Could you give us an insight into your current GT3 car? And could you tell us how different it is from the single seaters that you’ve raced in the past?
Arjun Maini: Yes obviously, it's a lot heavier. It is based on a road going car. But of course modified to suit the track. But yes it offers less grip, but in terms of the engine and the electronics, it's really good. And there’s a lot more you can do because you’re working with a manufacturer, so there’s a lot of fine tuning you can do which you couldn’t do in Formula 2 for example because it's a single-make race (series). It’s a lot more interesting to me, of course, to work with the manufacturer and the team. But the racing is way more fun because single seaters can sometimes be artificial with the DRS and all the stuff. Whereas here, it's pure racing. If you want to make the move, you have to brake later than the guy ahead of you. And that’s really appealing to me. Just feels like if you’re racing, it’s really awesome to work with a manufacturer, especially Mercedes-AMG and to be driving in a Mercedes-AMG badge car is something that feels really good.
Akaash Bhadra: So, did you have to change your driving style a little bit as you moved into DTM?
Arjun Maini: Yes you do. Because the main thing is the ABS which I am not used to using under braking. It basically stops your wheels from locking. So single seaters or prototypes that I’ve raced before, had to modulate your brake pedal with the foot on the limit of the brake locks. Whereas now, there is the ABS system which of course stops the wheel from locking in itself. But to use it the right amount on the corner, because if you use it too much, it’s not good as well as you would be losing efficiency. And if you are not using the ABS that means you’re optimising the brake and this took a while to get used to. And of course the lines are slightly different. And things like this cost you a lot in GT3, I’ve found out. So you just have to have a very precise driving style.
Akaash Bhadra: So would you say that you’ve improved over the 12 races so far?
Arjun Maini: I think I’ve definitely improved. I think I’ve moved up the field as well in terms of pace as well. And quali pace is quite good in the potential as well. Of course it sounds wrong that I was the fastest Mercedes at Lausitzring which was Round 2 and there were glimpses of my speed but now it’s a lot more consistent. We still don’t have pace in our package in a few specific tracks but we are working on it to end the season on a high.
Akaash Bhadra: Could you tell us the difference between the manufacturers participating in DTM and how their car architecture plays out on the track?
Arjun Maini: So there are a lot of differences between their strengths and their weaknesses. Also the BOP system tries to balance everything out so what that does is that over a lap, all the manufacturers are close. Obviously some races will be in favour of one and in some, it will favour us. So for example, we are strong in medium speed and high-speed corners, whereas the BMW is really fast on the straights and not so good in the corners. So this creates some mix and close racing. But over the lap we’re all pretty similar. So it’s all about using the strengths of your car. Like it’s impossible to overtake a BMW on the straights but we have the advantage in the corners. Moreover, our tyre degradation is meant to be good over at the Getspeed side, but over a lap, everything gets quiet even. And the BOP system has worked quite well this year and there’s so many different philosophies on how the cars are this year. As you said, some are mid-engined, some are front-engined, some have more power and some are turbo but over a lap, these differences tend to be in tenths of a second which I think is absolutely incredible.
Akaash Bhadra: Okay, I’m gonna ask you something which might pinch a little, but could you tell us what exactly happened in DTM Assen? And could you give us an insight on what exactly happened and how you and your team dealt with the weekend?
Arjun Maini: Yeah, it was quite disappointing. Obviously the race leader didn’t do anything wrong on paper, but he kept delaying the start of the race for a really, really long time. And it gets worse as you go down the order. Everyone was accelerating and braking, accelerating and braking and I guess everyone ran into everyone. And ofcourse we were unlucky enough to get damaged. It was literally unavoidable for me and the cars around because there were three Mercedes-AMG on the line and we were out even before the race even started which is not ideal for us as a brand. Yeah, it was disappointing. Nobody did anything wrong but yeah, it ended up like that. It was a shame and there was nothing I could do to avoid it or react in a different way.
Akaash Bhadra: How hard would you say the aspect of overtaking is in DTM?
Arjun Maini: First of all, it's judging the strengths and weaknesses of your car compared to the others. For example, it is difficult to overtake a BMW when compared to a Ferrari or an Audi. Like the BMW’s are so fast on the straight that you have to find a way to get them at the exit of the corners as they struggle for traction and be clever. It’s a lot more pure as we don’t have a DRS or a ‘push to pass’ button or anything. They have to be done on track without any assists to us, so you just have to outfox your opponent. It’s a lot more outfoxing going on where you have to stay close to your opponent and use the DRS to pass your opponent. And it’s a little more wheel-to-wheel contact in DTM and is a little bit more aggressive because it’s easier not to get damage. But on the other hand it is not as clean as single-seater racing.
Akaash Bhadra: Which track on the calendar is your favourite and why?
Arjun Maini: At the start of the season I did say that I was looking forward to the Norisring as it is a street circuit. But to be honest I enjoyed the Lausitzring the most with the oval section. So this was really cool to have a half oval. And the rest of the track as the Grand Prix circuit. We didn’t think it would work for the start or it would be dangerous. But at the end of the day it worked. DTM did a good job at it and it provided us with a really exciting race. So yeah, I enjoyed the Lausitzring with the oval.
Akaash Bhadra: So like, did the oval section give an old track vibe? Because we only see oval sections on really old photos of tracks now.
Arjun Maini: Exactly you know! Imagine going through a banked corner and then doing half the track. Imagine doing the banked corner at Monza for an F1 race and then using the rest of the track to complete the race. I know that’s not possible but that's the feel we got from racing on that track.
Akaash Bhadra: Speaking of F1, we know you were a Haas development driver, so is a F1 seat still on your wishlist?
Arjun Maini: At the minute, I am in a position where I wouldn’t close the door on an opportunity. But for now, I am looking at stuff elsewhere in GT3 racing with Mercedes-AMG. Let’s see how it goes out from there. You know, it’s the first time I had the opportunity as a professional driver and to be associated with a brand. And for me it’s a more stable career path than to aim for something like the dream. So I wouldn’t say no, but then again anything is possible. But at the same time, I am more focused about my future on this side. With the help of JK Racing, JK tyres, Mumbai Falcons, OSM etc. They put in a lot of effort to get me here and I hope this continues.
Akaash Bhadra: So what would you say that your next season plan is? Is it to stay in DTM or would you also participate in other events?
Akaash Bhadra: At the moment, nothing is finalised. We’re still starting talks. But the main objective is to be more consistent and a win would be great. Ofcourse DTM would be a part of it but other GT3 series and racing to get more time in the car. Compared to the others I really didn’t do as much as the others in terms of driving time who are doing DTM among hundreds of other things as well. And considering it’s the same type of car in the other series, it definitely helps to get to know more. So we’re gonna try to figure it out and make sure I get the best opportunity to perform.
Akaash Bhadra: Could you tell us your perspective on electric motorsport?
Arjun Maini: I think the position of electric motorsport is comparatively new and given an opportunity I would dive right into it. But I do kind of prefer the old fashioned way of racing. I am a big fan of endurance racing like Le Mans. I mean I like the idea of pure motorsport as the concept hasn’t changed over the years. I mean the cars have become faster but it still holds true to the old style of racing. Like in F1 where we used to have refuelling and other aspects which we cannot have anymore due to safety reasons but endurance racing has stayed true to its heritage and I really like that about it. You know I am more attracted to the old-school format of racing but at the same time, I would definitely be open to electric motorsport and see what it has to offer.
Akaash Bhadra: Since you said you’re a purist, I wanted to ask, are you a fan of rolling start or standing start?
Arjun Maini: That’s a really good question, you know. I don’t know, but I would prefer a standing start to be honest.
Akaash Bhadra: I mean it would have saved you from Assen.
Arjun Maini: Hahaha. Right, exactly. I feel there are more chances to recover from a bad qualifying in a standing start. But of course if I am on pole, I would always prefer a rolling start because you’re so much more in control. But yeah, I would prefer a standing start.
Akaash Bhadra: So Arjun, could you tell us what could we expect from the last two rounds in DTM?
Arjun Maini: We already had our meetings and our quali pace is good. So it’s just about putting everything together. And we’ve tried to fix our issues in the race. So we have a plan of action, but of course things can be different when we finally get there and I am quite confident. But the competition is tough as a tenth of a second can be the difference between fighting for the win or fighting for points. So it’s close and it’s tough to say, but I hope the tracks will be in favour of the Mercedes-AMG and usually we have been strong everywhere. So there is nothing to suggest that we will not be strong there. And I think I would like to fight for the podium. I think our quali pace can put us in the front and then we need to find that little bit of extra go on further.
Akaash Bhadra: Okay, so my last question to you, who is the faster brother between the two?
Arjun Maini: Hahahaha… I knew you would have asked this question..But I think I usually don’t answer that but even I’d say I have experience which might help me, but he is not the one to back out as well. So I think it will be close to say the least.
Akaash Bhadra: So basically it will be like a quali round of DTM?
Arjun Maini: Haha.. Exactly, it will be that close.
Akaash Bhadra: Thank you so much Arjun for joining us and we hope to connect soon after your four races from the 2021 DTM season.
Arjun Maini: Thank you!
Arjun currently stands P14 in the championship with 17 points and the last race of the season will be held at Norisring on October 8. For updates, stay tuned to evo India.