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Season review: Indian juniors' international performances in 2016

As many as 14 young Indian drivers competed around the globe in the 2016 season, with nine of them racing full-time in various single-seater championships in Europe, Asia, America and Middle East. Here's a look at their performances.

Arjun Maini, Jenzer Motorsport

 Arjun Maini

Series: FIA European Formula 3, GP3

Teams: T-Sport (F3), Jenzer Motorsport (GP3), Motopark (Macau)

Position: 21st (F3), 10th (GP3)

Alexander Albon, ART Grand Prix, Arjun Maini, Jenzer Motorsport and Charles Leclerc, ART Grand Prix
Alexander Albon, ART Grand Prix, Arjun Maini, Jenzer Motorsport and Charles Leclerc, ART Grand Prix

Photo by: GP3 Media Service

Having had a decent rookie season in 2015 with Van Amersfoort Racing in European F3, Maini decided to switch teams for his sophomore campaign and join forces with T-Sport, after a fruitful Macau Grand Prix with the British squad last year.

The reason for the change was undoubtedly the promise shown by Japan’s Threebond engine which was marked as a potential match to the Mercedes and Volkswagen engines.

But the promise short-lived, as altitude issues meant T-Sport were forced to revert to NBE engines from the second round itself, leaving Maini in a situation where he had to fight his way up to get into the points in the races.

With the results not showing any improvement, the Indian called time on his F3 career and made a switch to GP3 instead from the third round of the championship, with Swiss team Jenzer Motorsport.

And Maini made an immediate impact taking a maiden podium in just his fourth appearance in Hungary’s sprint race. This was after having clinched two reverse-grid poles in Silverstone and Hungary.

With him staying in the series for the rest of the year, the Indian notched up several points scoring finishes to end up a respectable 10th in the standings despite having missed the pre-season testing and the first two rounds.

His results were much talked about since he took on several drivers capable of winning races in GP3, whom he was able to beat on few occasions and he also finished ahead of his regular teammate Akash Nandy and the likes of Richard Gonda, Alessio Lorandi and Oscar Tunjo.

Even though the Indian had troubles with his starts as well as re-starts, Maini overcame some of the odds as he gained experience and came out as one of the potential star to watch out in 2017.

Post-season, in a last-minute deal, Maini raced with Motopark in the Macau Grand Prix, where things didn’t go as per the plan with a main race retirement, despite having the pace to the front-runners.

Looking ahead for 2017, the Indian tested with reigning champion team ART Grand Prix and Trident in the three-day Abu Dhabi test. He is, though, yet to confirm the team he will race for in GP3 next season.

 Jehan Daruvala

Series: Toyota Racing Series, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0

Teams: M2 Competition (TRS), Josef Kaufmann Racing (FR 2.0)

Position: 2nd (TRS), 4th (NEC), 9th (Eurocup)

Podium: winner Jehan Daruvala, Josef Kaufmann Racing
Podium: winner Jehan Daruvala, Josef Kaufmann Racing

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

Before his Formula Renault 2.0 campaign, the Sahara Force India protégé competed in the Toyota Racing Series with M2 Competition, finishing runner-up to Lando Norris, and also claiming his maiden single-seater win during the season.

While Norris had the upper hand, the Indian fended off the likes of Brendon Leitch, Ferdinand Habsuburg and Pedro Piquet among others, to claim second place with his consistent points scoring results, which included three wins and three podiums.

Moving to the two Formula Renault 2.0 series in the NEC and Eurocup, Daruvala started his second season with good results racing with championship-winning Josef Kaufmann Racing team.

The Indian even attained his first FR 2.0 series win in the Hungary NEC round and continued his fine run with four more podiums putting him within touching distance of third-placed Dorian Boccolacci – the two separated by a mere three points in the end.

However, over in the Eurocup races, the Mumbai-based driver’s season nosedived during the Monza round, after two successive retirements.

Whether it was the wet races and/or crashes, Daruvala often had to fight through difficult odds to achieve the desired results.

The pressure increased seeing the results of teammate Norris, who went on to claim both the titles in his rookie season itself, and also the improvement shown by SMP-backed Robert Shwartzman in the season.

Eventually, Daruvala ended up ninth in Eurocup, unable to finish any higher than seventh in the last seven races of the season, since the Red Bull Ring round.

Reflecting back on the season, the Indian admitted to his shortcomings in the year, but was overall satisfied with his raw pace against his rivals. Having already confirmed his 2017 plans, Daruvala will be graduating to European F3 with Carlin, hoping to end up as the top rookie against some formidable drivers. 

 Tarun Reddy

Series: BRDC British Formula 3

Team: Fortec

Position: 6th

Tarun Reddy, Fortec Motorsports
Tarun Reddy, Fortec Motorsports

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey Photography

After a lacklustre 2015 season in MSA Formula (now British F4) that was marred with technical problems, Reddy found some redemption competing in the British Formula 3 this year.

Having taken four podiums across the eight rounds, Reddy was unarguably the fastest Indian in the category. The 18-year-old also topped practice sessions at several occasions and was particularly fast during pre-season testing.

However, the Fortec driver did struggle to carry his practice pace into qualifying - and never really managed to bag an elusive win, despite coming close at times, especially at Spa-Francorchamps.

But given the kind of competition in the championship, it was a promising season for Reddy and a sign of things to come from the former Sahara Force India Academy finalist.

Post-season, Reddy also took part in the British F3 Autumn Trophy with Double R Racing, but engines issues meant it was a missed opportunity for the Indian with him ending up only sixth.

The Chennai-born driver also took part in the three-day GP3 test with DAMS and Koiranen GP, along with testing in the Euroformula Open with the Drivex team, and will choose from among the two series for 2017 season.

 Kush Maini

Series: Italian Formula 4

Team: BVM Racing

Position: 16th overall, 5th rookie 

Rookie second place Kush Maini, BVM Racing
Rookie second place Kush Maini, BVM Racing

Photo by: Kush Maini

The younger brother of Arjun Maini, Kush made his international single-seater debut competing in the Italian Formula 4 series with Italian squad BVM Racing.

The Indian teen started his season handsomely with some fine performances gathering rookie podiums both in Misano and Adria, which put him on top of the rookie standings midway through the season.

But with a few hiccups since the Imola round and the team losing its second driver Lorenzo Colombo, the performances dipped as they lost a reference point according to Maini, with the situation being new for both the team and the driver in a competitive championship.

However, having clinched his maiden podium finish in Vallelunga, the Indian salvaged good points to end up fifth in the rookie standings, showing good pace overall in his first year of formula racing.

For 2017, Maini is set to continue in the same championship, but with a different team which will be announced in due course of time, with him having completed winter testing with three different teams.

 Ameya Vaidyanathan

Season: Euroformula Open, BRDC British Formula 3

Team: Carlin

Position: 15th overall, 5th rookie (EF Open), 22nd (British F3)

Ameya Vaidyanathan, Carlin Motorsport
Ameya Vaidyanathan, Carlin Motorsport

Photo by: FotoSpeedy

It is difficult to assess Vaidyanathan’s performance in 2016 due to his horrific crash in Oulton Park that kept him away from the race track for several weeks.

Driving for Carlin in the the British F3 championship, Vaidyanathan made contact with Sisa Ngebulana at Cascades, rolling over multiple times before coming to a halt nearly 50 metres away.

The incident meant that he missed subsequent British F3 rounds in Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, before returning to race at Snetterton.

Put the crash aside and Vaidyanathan’s 2016 campaign wasn’t any different from an year before.

The Carlin driver again managed to score headline results - such as a podium in Rockingham BF3 and sixth in the Euroformula Open decider in Barcelona - but struggled for consistency. Case in point being EF Open, where he could score points in only three of the eight rounds.

Considering that Vaidyanathan was driving for one of the better teams in the two championships, one would have hoped for better results than he achieved in only his second full year of racing.

The Indian is yet to announce his 2017 plans, but will start his year by taking part in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series.

 Krishnaraaj Mahadik

Season: BRDC British Formula 3

Team: Chris Dittmann Racing

Position: 20th

Krishnaraaj Mahadik, Chris Dittmann Racing
Krishnaraaj Mahadik, Chris Dittmann Racing

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey Photography

A lack of pre-season testing and absence from the first round meant Mahadik had a steep hill to climb when he made not his only British F3 debut at Brands Hatch, but also his debut in international single-seaters racing.

Indeed, Mahadik had a difficult time adjusting himself to cars that were much faster than anything he had raced before. Not to mention that the tracks in the UK were completely new to him.

Considering the circumstances, Mahadik did a fairly decent job - even managing a sixth place finish on his debut weekend.

However, there were races where lack of experience was too evident. And his crash at Silverstone didn’t do him any favours - in all the Indian did not start in four races to go with Round 1 miss.

That said, with fewer incidents and more track experience, Mahadik could exceed expectations and make a bright future for himself in Europe as he considers another full season in British F3 in 2017.

 Akhil Rabindra

Season: BRDC British Formula 3

Team: Lanan Racing

Position: 18th

Akhil Rabindra, Lanan Racing
Akhil Rabindra, Lanan Racing

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Rabindra endured a difficult campaign in British F3, unable to build on the promise he had shown on his European debut in 2015 season.

The Indian showed flashes of pace all-though the year, but he could never quite string things together to notch top-line results as his compatriots.

The Lanan driver admitted that some of the problems were of his own making, while set-up issues and three DNFs didn’t make life any easier with the Indian only managing two Top 10 results all season.

However, racing drivers tend to have off-colour years where they seem mediocre at best. Rabindra can only hope that 2016 was one such year.

With no announcement made regarding his future, Rabindra is believed to considering returning to British F3 or make a total switch to sportscar racing in the British GT championship. 

 Akash Gowda,  Mohammed Nalwalla

Series: Formula 4 South East Asia

Podium: race winner Akash Gowda, second place Isyraf Danish, third place Mohammed Nalwalla
Podium: race winner Akash Gowda, second place Isyraf Danish, third place Mohammed Nalwalla

Photo by: Formula 4 SEA

With the season still ongoing, both Gowda and Nalwalla’s maiden stint internationally in F4 SEA has started on a sound note.

In the four rounds so far, while Gowda has notched up several wins to his name to go with podium finishes, Nalwalla has had a decent start to his formula racing career, taking a few rookie wins and points finishes.

Even though most of the drivers in the championship are at the stage of starting their single-seater careers, both the Indians are getting a taste of international competition in various Asian circuits.

Other notable drivers

#25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2 Nissan: Michael Munemann, Parth Ghorpade, Chris Hoy
#25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JSP2 Nissan: Michael Munemann, Parth Ghorpade, Chris Hoy

Photo by: PhotoCiabatti

Apart from the drivers mentioned above who raced or are racing in various series, there were some other Indian drivers who had few international experiences in 2016.

Parth Ghorpade started his season with a switch to sporstcar racing in the European Le Mans Series with the Algarve team, but his stint prematurely ended after he injured his knee.

The Indian had some decent results and was widely tipped as a promising youngster in ELMS, until he was forced to pull out. Since then he has been sidelined for most of the year having only just raced in the MRF Challenge's round in Dubai.

Mahaveer Raghunathan, Carlin
Mahaveer Raghunathan, Carlin

Photo by: GP2 Series Media Service

Meanwhile, Mahaveer Raghunathan raced in the GP3 season-opener with Koiranen having taken part in the pre-season testing, but called time in the series to take part in the Auto GP.

The Indian returned to the competitive single-seater fold taking part in the post-season GP2 test with Carlin and MP Motorsport, and is expected to race in the series in 2017.

Elsewhere, the Hong Kong-based Indian Brad Dias notched up podium finishes in Asian Formula Renault Class B on his debut, while Ricky Donison raced in the curtain raiser weekend of Formula 4 UAE and Karthik Tharani represented India in the Road to Indy shootout.

Karthik Tharani
Karthik Tharani

Photo by: IMS LLC

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