Indian racer Jehan Daruvala's performance in the Formula 2 season opener is a "definite step forward" but he needs to deliver consistently to have a shot at graduating to Formula 1, his mentor and chief of Red Bull's much acclaimed driver development program, Dr Helmut Marko, told PTI. (More Sports News)
After a mixed debut season last year, India's F1 hopeful Jehan finds himself third in the Formula 2 standings after the first round in Bahrain where he finished second and fourth in the two sprint races before coming sixth in the feature race.
The current season is being seen as a make or break one for the 22-year-old from Mumbai, who is aiming to become only the third Indian to reach Formula 1 after Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.
Marko, who played a pivotal role in the career of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and has produced umpteen Formula 1 drivers, said the aim for Jehan has to be to win the title and Red Bull will take it from there though there is no automatic entry to their junior team Alpha Tauri.
"The first round was a definite step forward than last year but he still has to improve. The aim has to be to win the championship. He still has to improve in some areas but at the moment after one race, it is okay," Marko, a former Formula 1 driver, told PTI ahead of the Imola Grand Prix this weekend.
"The aim has to be to win the title but he doesn't automatically get a Formula 1 seat by doing that. It is just one race. It is far too early to say at this stage. Everything is related to performance.
Marko said that it will be premature to talk about his Formula 1 chances.
"Performance is the key to to development as a Red Bull driver. It is unfair to be talking about a Formula 1 seat at this stage. There are other young drivers also and two Red Bull drivers also (Juri Vips and Liam Lawson in Formula 2). We will see who are the ones succeeding," said the 77-year-old from Austria.
Jehan was signed by Red Bull last year and despite a mixed run in 2020, he did enough to secure an extension for 2021.
In 2019, Jehan grabbed eyeballs with a third place finish in the Formula 3 Championship and was a title contender for the the major part of the season.
Asked why he chose Jehan among a plethora of young drivers for the Red Bull junior program, Marko said: "He finished third in F3 but for the majority of the season he was a championship contender. But we saw potential and looked at the personality of the driver. Out of the group he interested us.
"We would not have picked him if we did not think that he didn't have the potential to reach Formula 1
"But potential doesn't mean he will make it. I don't want to be over enthusiastic. Just give him time if he produces top class performances we will see. Lets see what reality brings."
Jehan's teammate last year, Honda-backed Yuki Tsunoda, earned a seat at Alpha Tauri for 2021 after an exceptional run in Formula 2 which culminated in third place in the championship.
In the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix last month, the Japanese bagged a couple of points to begin on a promising note.
"It is the same story (with Yuki), he did well in one race. Let's talk in autumn, let's talk in September. We are realistic. There has to be performance over a period of time."
For the first time in the hybrid era, Red Bull are looking their strongest to compete with the dominant Mercedes outfit.
Their number two driver last year, Alex Albon, was not able to deliver consistently and therefore was replaced by the experienced Sergio Perez for this season.
Rather than taking the usual route of promoting an Alpha Tauri driver, Red Bull chose the "outsider" in Mexican to mount a stronger challenge for Mercedes.
Marko explained why they picked Perez over Pierre Gasly who also had a memorable 2020.
"We are the only that junior team which produced a world champion, which produced Grand Prix winners and I don't know how many people we brought to Formula 1 but fighting for the World Championship you need an experienced driver.
"You cannot put someone like Yuki in a Red Bull car straightaway, he is not experienced enough for the job. You needed an experienced driver and we only had another experienced driver in Gasly who was needed as the team leader at Alpha Tauri."
Marko has the eye for spotting future champions and he put the success of the Red Bull junior program to treating every driver differently.
"First of all a driver must get success in junior categories and then there must be a will to succeed and must be some personality but everybody is different.
"We don't model drivers on a scheme. We try to see individuals.
"The programs at Renault or Mercedes are not as successful. The drivers are human beings and they all are different and that is what we like," he added.