Kush Maini: ‘Formula E test role can help improve F2 results'

Maini is gearing up for his second F2 season next year.

A lot has changed for 23-year-old Kush Maini recently. Back in 2021, he found himself on the sidelines, having to take a break from racing. But just two short years later, he’s now gearing up for his sophomore F2 season; he’s joined Alpine’s young driver programme and has been announced as Mahindra Racing’s new Formula E reserve driver. “It still feels surreal,” the young Indian beams.

Gap year

After climbing up the karting ladder, Maini made his single-seater debut in 2016, competing in the Italian F4 Championship. He then raced in the Formula Renault Eurocup and British Formula 3, where he finished second overall in 2020.

Just as the ball got rolling, he had to step away from racing for nearly a year. Yes, he did have a few F3 Asia outings, and even made a one-off World Endurance Championship (LMP2) appearance, but he spent most of 2021 away from active competition – something that Maini says definitely hurt his momentum. “You get rusty,” he admits.

“Even in F3, I was quick, but I did dumb stuff,” he adds, referring to his debut and only FIA F3 season back in 2022. But Maini also considers that period as a blessing in disguise. “That was a very down part of my life, but it showed me how much I need racing and it awoke more motivation and determination in me. And now I think I’m back stronger than ever. So, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Stepping up to F2

That time away did impact his performance in the 2022 FIA F3 championship, where he finished 14th overall. But rather than repeating a year, Maini made the step up to F2 in 2023 with Campos Racing.

He showed some impressive pace in F2, even collecting his first podium at the Australian GP sprint race. The single-seater ladder can be ruthless, and you need to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons if you want to secure manufacturing backing. So, when asked if he ever considered repeating a year in F3, Maini replied, “I knew I was quick enough to be fighting at the front [in F3], but I didn’t do it. So, obviously my confidence inside me was saying ‘Can I do it? There’s a lot of spotlight on F2, you can’t mess up’. But in the end, I went with my gut and as soon as I got into the F2 car, it felt amazing.”

“It helped improve my confidence and that was the best decision I made.”

Backing from Alpine and Mahindra

Earlier this year, Maini moved a step closer to his F1 aspirations after joining the Alpine F1 team’s young driver development programme. As part of the academy, he’ll benefit from the guidance of the Alpine F1 team as well as the wider Alpine Academy staff, along with access to the team’s state-of-the-art facilities at its Enstone base.

But Maini isn’t just focusing on a future in F1. He was recently signed as Mahindra Racing’s new Formula E reserve driver. “Everything is open,” says Maini. “To get better as a racing driver I need to be in top teams and top championships. And what better way to do it than in F1 and Formula E, with two great teams.”

The role will see him undertake plenty of Formula E sim work, and Mahindra Racing CEO Frederic Bertrand admits that he’s also been signed to keep factory drivers – Edoardo Mortara and Nyck de Vries – on their toes.

“I have no pressure to take an Indian driver, I have pressure to take good drivers and fast drivers able to help us,” says Bertrand. “[We need someone who can] bring the knowledge and capacity to challenge our drivers. And with the background he [Maini] has, he definitely is one of the drivers able to do it.”

Of course, Formula E has a very different driving style to F2. “That’s another thing which was scary at first,” Maini admits. “But in the end, I’m a racing driver, I can get into anything and be quick. That’s what I want to be and if I can’t do that then I may as well not race. So for me, it’s a great challenge.”

Maini also believes he can take his Formula E experience and apply it to F2. “There’s a lot of things you can actually use in F2. You have to stay calm in the car in Formula E, you need to be thinking so much more, there are so many more things to do. And I can use that in F2 by staying more calm. That’s what I’ve lacked this year in F2; I haven’t thought enough in the races,” he explains.

Mika Hakkinen mentoring Kush Maini

Maini’s performance has also caught the attention of two-time F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen, who is now mentoring the Indian. “He’s basically going to be forming my whole team around me because he knows what it takes to be a world champion, he knows what the driver needs to focus on,” says Maini.

He’s going to try and build that for me and give me the best opportunity to be in F1 one day. And I’m forever thankful.”

Alongside his new Formula E commitments, Maini will be spending the coming months preparing for his second F2 season. There’s plenty of new ground to cover – he’s joined Invicta Virtuosi for his sophomore outing, and there’s also a new-gen car that’s much closer to F1 in terms of performance, looks, sustainability, etc. “[The new car has a] much thinner nose, it’s going to be heavier, but it’s also going to have more downforce. So, it’s going to change how you drive the car a bit,” Maini explains.

But, for me, it’s good because it evens out the playing field for all the teams. It’s a new car and how well you understand the team and your engineers is going to make a big difference now more than ever. So, that’s going to be an exciting part now and I’m excited.”

Also see:

Formula E Hyderabad E-Prix confirmed for 2024

Mahindra Racing reveals new livery for 2024 Formula E season

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