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F1 champion Mika Hakkinen to mentor rising F2 star Maini

Two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, who mentored Valtteri Bottas, is aiming to take Kush Maini to Formula 1 with Indian corporate backing.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, on the grid with Mika Hakkinen

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, on the grid with Mika Hakkinen

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The Finn is throwing his weight behind Maini, and says the target is very clear: “F1 is our objective”.

Hakkinen’s track record in this department is strong, having played a significant role in the development of former Mercedes F1 race winner and current Alfa Romeo Sauber driver Valtteri Bottas.

In the current F1 field Mark Webber performs a similar role with Oscar Piastri, who has broken through in the second half of the season with podiums and a sprint race win to his credit.

Having an experienced F1 race winner in your corner means a young driver can focus on the essentials over a race weekend, learn how to win bragging rights within a team and optimise communications. And it can provide powerful business leverage, connecting with sponsors.

Maini was a top four contender in the first half of the F2 season with Campos Racing, but his results have tailed off in the second half. However with Hakkinen applying his mentoring and management techniques and processes, Maini believes that he can challenge at the front in 2024.

“I think from next year, my approach and that of my team is going to be a lot more structured thanks to Mika, “ says Maini. “Having a trainer who's looking after your nutrition at the track, a mind coach looking after anything you're going through on a race weekend. Basically the way Mika works is you narrow down everything to the point where the driver just has one job.”

Maini, 23, from Bangalore, is the younger brother of Arjun Maini, who raced two seasons in F2 and was briefly a development driver for Haas F1 team. The younger Maini finished runner up in the 2020 British F3 Championship, a series Hakkinen himself won back in 1990.

“I've watched Mika since I was young. And I know everything he has achieved in this sport,” says Maini. “So just for him to believe that I could reach Formula One shows that we've done something right in these last 15 years. It’s a massive weapon you have in your arsenal when you have Mika Hakkinen standing behind you!”

Kush Maini, Campos Racing celebrates with the trophy on the podium.

Kush Maini, Campos Racing celebrates with the trophy on the podium.

Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images

“I have a lot of experience from working with Valtteri Bottas seeing him developing and growing as a driver,” says Hakkinen.  “More recently I’ve been following Kush, understanding his abilities, his talent for driving. It’s a very interesting journey together to develop, to be an even more professional racing driver. F1 is our objective, not forgetting the current situation (in F2).

Hakkinen will not be a blow-by-blow driver coach, teaching Maini cornering techniques: “I don't think I have to put my nose into that”.

But he will lend his enormous experience of the life of a top driver; managing time, communicating with a team and above all Hakkinen will do what former McLaren boss Ron Dennis did for him, which is to make sure that everything around him in his life is taken care of so he just has to focus on one job, which is driving and winning.

The day to day management of Maini will be handled by Guillaume le Goff, who also looks after Alpine F1 driver Pierre Gasly.

Hakkinen defines his role as leveraging the tools of “communication and the network that I have. These assets are very powerful when looking after a young talented driver. I've been an ambassador for Formula One and been part of F1 since 1991. It's an asset, the power that I have to take this young driver into the right places at the right time.

“Of course, India is an enormous, powerful country. I’m part of bringing a young driver from India to Formula One, bringing these mega companies, learning to understand the opportunities that Formula One can bring them. And vice versa, of course, what Formula One can experience and create with India. I can only see beautiful success stories.

“India is going to be very powerful. And I want all Indians to know Kush Maini, I want everybody in India cheering him. I want them to feel that he's going to be a winner in Formula One. Of course it requires very hard work and a lot of sacrifices.

"Because of my experience in this motor racing world, I do understand (the importance of) timing, being in the right team, having the right partners, working with the right people is crucial.”

Hakkinen says that other announcements about Maini’s next steps will follow shortly. Although this F2 season is not yet over, Maini is already preparing for next year, “Having Mika behind me, my whole team being created now and not having to stress about racing, I think it's a very exciting time for myself, and I definitely feel I haven't showed anywhere near what I am capable of in the car, “ he says. “I’m very excited to hopefully show it next year.”

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