Top gear: UAE revs up to find the next generation of motor racing talent

EMSO will follow the Finnish blueprint to unearth stars of the future

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - The Al Qubaisi sisters  Amna, 19 and Hamda, 17 competes for Formula 4, at Yas Marina Circuit. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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The UAE is to follow Finland’s example in identifying, nurturing and promoting young Emirati racing drivers.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organisation (EMSO) and FIA Vice President, believes the Nordic nation's system to be highly successful.

"Finland is a smaller country and yet has the highest per capita number of Formula One and World Rally Championship (WRC) champions in the world," the Emirati former top rally driver told The National.

“They have been working together for over 30 years to constantly promote young Finns so we know this approach works and now we will adopt the same in the UAE.”

The decision to implement the new pathway to develop young drivers comes after EMSO conducted the largest ever survey of amateur motorsport racers in the Emirates.

The organisation shared key findings that revealed more than a third of respondents harbour ambitions to race at a higher level. The findings also discovered high entry cost and lack of sponsorships as the two main barriers to a motorsport career.

The study has already led to the creation the UAE Talent Development Commission, currently bringing together all key national stakeholders to look at how best to ensure that future stars reach their potential.

“In simple terms if all stakeholders work together that is a lot of horsepower,” Ben Sulayem said. “Many other countries have expressed interest in the research based approach we took to develop this plan.

“Already three African and one European country have approached us seeking help in developing their plans and we are very happy to share our knowledge with them.”

Access to driver funding, a mentor scheme, and a structured development path are essential and Ben Sulayem insisted they are working to have a structured pathway for talent.

Ben Sulayem

“One of our first tasks will be to select the UAE team to compete at the 2021 FIA Motorsport Games in France and the FIA MENA Karting Challenge which will be held in Oman also next year,” he added.

“It will allow our drivers to compete against the best in the region.”

One of the young Emirati talents already making an impact is Rashid Al Dhaheri, 12, the karting sensation who is chasing his dream of becoming a Formula One driver.

The Al Qubaisi sisters Amna, 20, and Hamda, 17, have already demonstrated their abilities in Formula 4 racing.

Identifying talent has been encouraged by Formula One's plan to encourage greater diversity.

“This has been promoted under #weracetogether,” said Ben Sulayem. “Therefore, the climate is much better now in F1 where the promoters and the teams are actively seeking drivers from outside the traditional feeder markets.

“It is also the same in WRC where I spent many years as a driver. Sadly, only passport holders from the European Union have been WRC Champions, that’s only 5 per cent of the world. We need to focus on the excluded 95 per cent now, starting with this region.”

Looking ahead to the new season, Ben Sulayem is expecting it to be as tough as is the case with all other sports around the world.

“It is very tough for all sports but I am proud that the FIA and F1 showed real innovation in getting F1 Grand Pris back running again despite massive challenges,” he said.