UAE's Rashid Al Dhaheri ready for long-awaited homecoming at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Emirati teenager confident of keeping home flag flying high during F4 race

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The latest turn on Rashid Al Dhaheri’s racing journey takes him back to where it all started - his home track at Yas Marina Circuit.

The Emirati, 15, competes in Formula 4, a no-points trophy round race, ahead of Sunday’s year-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Al Dhaheri arrives on the back of his first season in F4 with Prema Racing in the Italian Championship, in which he finished a creditable 10th overall and sixth in the rookie standings in the 40-car field.

He also took third spot behind Theodore Racing’s pair Arvid Lindblad and Charles Leong in Macau in his last race two weeks ago.

Now on home soil, Al Dhaheri hopes that he can do his country proud and place even higher to become the national highlight in what already promises to be an exciting Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“The season-ending F4 trophy on Yas Marina Circuit is going to be super exciting and we’ll see how the season ends and be as strong as possible for next season,” Al Dhaheri told The National.

“Formula 4 is quite a big step up compared to karting. It was a very insightful season where we had to learn a lot. The cars are bigger and much faster, and there are a lot of new tracks to learn from. I must say we were able to improve a lot throughout the season.

“We started from points and went up to the podium. Indeed, it was a very exciting season and with a lot of memorable moments.

“In racing, towards the end, we were fighting for every millisecond. It’s important to look at every single detail and to be precise about where you would like to be."

Still, F1 is what Al Dhaheri has always had his sights set on. He could have made the grade earlier to qualify in a single seater for a place on the track, had it not been the minimum age set at 15 to join Formula 4.

Al Dhaheri, who turned 15 on April 8, says his long-term goal without doubt is to one day race with the elite in Formula One.

“To reach F1 of course is the ultimate aim but it takes a lot of hard work and determination,” he said.

“It’s a dream that we want to get to. We are working really hard and we also make a lot of sacrifices. Every single day we try to get closer and closer.”

However, before reaching his ultimate goal, Al Dhaheri has to move up the ranks.

“Between F4 and F3 the cars become bigger and stronger, and a bit more developed in a way that they spend more time in the building of the car as it becomes a bit more complex,” he explained.

“There is also bit more to learn from the mechanics as the pit stop becomes part of the race, the management of the tyres and, of course, variety of the tracks we are able to go to.

“That's the same difference as between the F3 and F2. The difference is in F3 they go to worldwide tracks. They follow the F1 race weekend, similar to F2.

“The biggest step between the F2 and F3 is the pit stops involved and there are quite a few tricky tracks like Monaco and Baku.”

Like most elite athletes, Al Dhaheri has a role model.

“Every single racing driver has something special. Fernando Alonso is the driver I like most because of his aggressiveness and he was also the first F1 driver I met,” he said.

“I wore an Alonso helmet and his kit to match when I was four. I always watched him and he was quite an inspiration to me. I walked around with this big Alonso helmet and red shoes. My father used to say I looked like an alien, a little kid with the full-face helmet.”

Al Dhaheri doesn’t have a favourite team, he feels they are all special, and when the time comes, he hopes to race for a team that provides him with the best chances, provided he moves up the ranks.

“It changes a lot nowadays,” he said. “Red Bull is doing a great job. They have a very good car and drivers. Then Ferrari is something special with an incredible following with quite a bit of history behind it. But I follow every racing team that I could get something out of.”

Prema Racing boss Rene Rosin was all praise for Al Dhaheri.

“It’s his first season in F4 and we are looking forward to a great future for him,” he added.

“He has a good team behind him and he has a great future ahead of him. The way forward is going to be long and there will be difficulties. Of course, his work ethic and commitment will take him close.

“He’s the most progressive Arab driver at the moment in single seater. On the other hand, he has age on his side and huge potential, and step by step, we think we can progress together to achieve his ultimate goal.”

Updated: November 24, 2023, 6:51 AM