Indian open-wheel racer Kush Maini has taken another step towards his dream of making it to the Formula 1 grid. The Alpine Academy driver, who currently competes in the FIA Formula 2 championship alongside his role as a Mahindra Racing Test Driver in FIA Formula E, has stepped up to become a development driver for the French Formula 1 team.

By Prakhar Drolia

At the Inside Line Club fan event in his hometown of Bangalore, Maini announced that he would be driving an F1 car on “multiple” occasions in the coming year as part of his new role within the Alpine F1 Team. While the Indian talent didn’t divulge further details, this highlights an exciting new step in his promising career.

Maini is part of the Alpine Academy young driver programme, which has previously had successful graduates spread across the grid, such as China’s Zhou Guanyu and the high – potential Aussie Oscar Piastri. Whilst his private tests will have to be with an older version of the car, as per the regulations, it will provide vital experience to adjust to the leap into a Formula 1 machine.

This could also open doors further down the line for Maini to drive in or more of the FP1 sessions later in the year, as the team is mandated to run one or more drivers with fewer than three race starts in Formula 1 over two practice sessions in the season. In 2022 and 2023, Alpine called on its reserve driver Jack Doohan to complete the team’s young driver FP1 obligations in Mexico and Abu Dhabi.

Support from Alpine, Hakkinen, and Le Goff

Maini became a part of the Alpine Driver Academy in October 2023 before the final race of the season. He joined FIA Formula 2 rivals Jack Doohan and hot prospect Victor Martins, who drove for the team’s champions ART Grand Prix. This announcement came a couple of weeks after Kush Maini joined forces with the two-time F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, with the Flying Finn offering him his guidance and experienced help through the journey.

Hakkinen has not only gathered a wealth of experience in his championship-winning career; since his retirement from Formula 1, he has also been involved in other facets of the sport. This has given him a deep understanding of the industry as a whole and the precious ability to form a young driver and boost his potential. Prior to working with Maini, Hakkinen has also worked with current Stake F1 Team driver Valtteri Bottas.

When talking about Hakkinen, Maini explained, “The way Mika works is you narrow down everything to the point where the driver just has one job.” This, paired with Alpine’s performance and training centres, could help Maini seize his testing opportunities and make a strong impression in the paddock. Having an experienced person like Hakkinen on a driver’s side will help them pick up key skills and on-track development, and could even provide leverage in negotiations.

In the process, Maini also got a new manager: Guillaume Le Goff, who also manages Pierre Gasly and Nyck De Vries. Kush’s raw pace, especially over a single lap from the car, has enabled him to shine in qualifying even without the best cars on the grid. Stepping up to FIA Formula 2 after just one year in Formula 3, there was the possibility that it could have been an early jump without enough development time. Despite this, he outdid his teammate Ralph Boschung – the second-most experienced driver in Formula 2 – across the season.

With more backing behind him, Maini has now switched to Invicta Racing. Coincidentally, this was Jack Doohan’s former team for his two seasons in FIA Formula 2. He will be joined by rookie FIA Formula 3 season Gabriel Bortoleto, with the McLaren Development Driver set to provide a strong challenge to the returning Maini.

This year’s season of Formula 2 features significantly different cars, whose design is reminiscent of that of the Super Formula cars. With adjustment the key, this new era will put everyone on a more equal footing. However, Maini’s talent and his strong support system will make him a strong contender for the upcoming championship.

Header photo credit: Alpine F1 Team

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