Two teenagers take the first big step in what could potentially turn out to be a life-changing experience.
Keanu Al Azhari and Matteo Quintarelli, both 15, represent the Yas Heat Racing Academy and will be among the 11 provisional starters in the F4 UAE Trophy, a one-off race, before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.
Al Azhari, born and raised in Dubai, is the second of the three boys in the family and a four-time UAE national karting champion.
“I have a great opportunity from Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management and Yas Heat Racing Academy to move into F4,” Al Azhari told The National after he was selected from a shootout to race in the F4 UAE Trophy.
“I’m really excited about the race on the F1 weekend. I turned 15 on Monday and one has to be 15 to race in F4. It's a nice coincidence and I’m cherishing that moment to race on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.”
Al Azhari’s long-term goal is to make his F4 debut and be the first UAE F1 driver. The pupil from Dubai American Academy has motor-racing pedigree as his father Karim is a multiple champion in the UAE.
“My dad was a multiple UAE champion,” he said. “He brought me into karting when I was five. He took me around Jebel Ali in a small karting track. Ever since then, I fell in love with the sport.
“The UAE is home to me. I was born in Dubai and lived all my life here. My dad was born here as well.”
Al Azhari represented the UAE in the FIA World and European Championships, the highest level in karting.
He celebrated a few top 10 finishes, and last year, he started in fourth position in the world championship, the highest placed by a UAE driver.
Al Azhari’s Italian teammate Quintarelli was a national karting champion in Bahrain before moving to the UAE in 2019.
“I was born in Peru. My dad moves around for his work and we just follow him everywhere,” the pupil from Dubai Repton School, said
“I was six when I rode my first go-kart in Italy. I went with my grandpa and when I returned home, I told everyone I wanted to do karting.
“I was in Bahrain for seven years and did karting for four years. I won the national championship and that’s where it all began. Just to get to drive in F4 is super exciting.”
Al Azhari and Quintarelli will participate in the national F4 championship starting in January.
The new academy at Yas Marina Circuit provides the two talented young drivers with a defined pathway into motorsports.
Saif Al Noaimi, chief executive of ADMM, said: “The new Yas Heat Racing Academy is a brand-new programme with the objective of providing talented young drivers in the UAE with a world-class environment and clear pathway into motor sports.
“We look forward to seeing our incredibly talented drivers on track and further establish Abu Dhabi as an innovative global leader on the world stage.”
Matthew Norman, team manager of the academy, added: “The opportunity for the team to make its official debut at our home circuit of Yas Marina Circuit at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a remarkable moment and one we are proud to be a part of.”