There were signs of a consistent points-scorer in Kush Maini. The Indian driver secured a maiden podium just after the halfway point in the 2022 Formula 3 season, but that could be considered an overdue result going by speed shown on a self-admittedly inconsistent basis.
His graduation to Formula 2 creates even more questions about Maini’s potential, and with experienced teammate Ralph Boschung alongside him in 2023, he’ll have a known benchmark to learn from as well as be compared against.
Following his rookie season in F3, how does promotion to F2 look for Maini and what does the 2023 season hold for the Campos Racing driver?
WHAT WE KNOW
Maini secured a top 10 Qualifying position in four of the nine rounds in last year’s F3 Championship. The 22-year-old kicked off the season just 0.073s off pole position in Sakhir but was forced to start from the pit lane after missing the FIA weighbridge during the session.
He fought well to end up 15th and 16th in the Sprint and Feature Races respectively, while a top 10 start in Imola brought his first points-scoring finish in the Feature Race with P5. Better results around Imola, Silverstone, Budapest and Monza indicate results were stronger around circuits where Maini had prior experience at, though disappointing efforts in Barcelona and Spa were the exceptions to that rule. That weekend should have resulted in a double-score but for his drive-through penalty in the Sprint deprived him of a probable top five finish.
With three visits in a row to venues Maini hasn’t raced at before (Jeddah, Melbourne and Baku) and all three being street circuits in some variety, early F2 results might not prove totally representative of where he truly stands.
What might count in his favour is the driving style requirements to extract the best of the F2 machine. During the three-day post-season test at Yas Marina, Maini commented that he was very comfortable in the car and felt that it was more to his style than the F3 car had been in 2022.
He was so comfortable in fact, that he ended the final day fastest of all for Campos Racing, almost half a second clear of anybody else. Of course, testing fuel loads and programmes vary from team to team, but Maini’s comments after stepping out of the car were positive. He also wasn’t getting carried away with being fastest either, adopting a mature and level-headed approach.
“Honestly, I don’t really care about the times, I’m just really satisfied that every time we went out at the same time as the others with new tyres, we’ve been in the top five or six,” he said back in Abu Dhabi. “I’m just happy that the pace is there. After you have a tough end to a season, you kind of start doubting yourself, but I’ve come here, and I’ve proved that we are quick, and we deserve to be here.”
Where Campos Racing truly stands in the competitive order of Formula 2 is a bit of a question mark. The team slumped to 11th and last in the Teams’ Standings last season, but there were plenty of mitigating factors in that, chiefly that Boschung missed six rounds due to neck pain. Replacement for Spielberg Roberto Merhi proved that there was speed in the car even in the Swiss driver’s absence, scoring P3 in the Feature Race that day.
Boschung himself was on the podium twice in 2022 either side of his enforced time on the sidelines, with third places in Imola and Spa. While it might be unfair to expect Maini to contend for podiums right away, the Indian driver seemed comfortable enough with the car in Abu Dhabi, and another three days of testing in Bahrain will only help his confidence.
Having Boschung back will be a positive for Campos and will help with providing a baseline the team can assess things from. It should provide the team with more points-scoring results and make them more competitive, but how Maini stacks up to the experienced Swiss driver will also be interesting to see.
While his point-scoring finishes weren’t as frequent as last seasons’s teammates second and third-year F3 drivers Caio Collet and Alexander Smolyar respectively, Maini did get closer by the end of the 2022 season. Much closer to regular top 10 finishes following the summer break in F3, how long it takes Maini to acclimatise to F2 will be interesting to see.
WHAT TO EXPECT
While it might take Maini some time to get up to speed in F2, once he is comfortable in the car and can extract the best in tandem with the Campos team, he should be capable of challenging in the points throughout 2023.
The Indian driver has scored a podium finish in every season in his single seater racing career dating back to 2016, and there’s no reason to think he won’t achieve that feat at least once this year if things fall into place.
Although the level of competition will take another step-up with graduation to Formula 2, Maini is more than capable of meeting that challenge head on.