UAE's Amna Al Qubaisi hopes Formula E test can increase Arab interest in motorsport
The teenager impressed by Formula E car and believes the series could hold a race in Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the future
As Emirati racing driver Amna Al Qubaisi became the first Arab woman to take part in a Formula E test on Sunday, she was in good company. Eight other female drivers were also on track throughout the day, the highest number of female drivers to ever take part in such a testing session.
The experience of being part of the test at Ad Diriyah in Saudi Arabia, just 24 hours after the inaugural Formula E championship race had been held at the venue, has only heightened the 18 year old's enthusiasm to continue her drive to establish herself in the upper echelons of motorsport in the years to come.
“Being chosen for the test is a huge achievement in itself,” she told The National. “Formula E helps me as a driver to be more consistent with my racing line. It could help me with my Formula Four career, being consistent, because in Formula E, one mistake and you're in the wall.”
Al Qubaisi is keenly aware that there is extra spotlight on her, as a woman in a male-dominated sport, but also representing the UAE and the Middle East, with only a handful of regional representatives having previously competed in top-level motorsport.
Al Qubaisi has competed in Formula 4, an European-based single seater series, this season having previously impressed in karting, most notably becoming the first Emirati female in 2017 to win the Senior class Rotax Max Challenge.
“When I first started racing, I never thought of myself as being the first female Arab to compete in motorsport, but then as I started Formula Four, I started to realise how much of a big deal it had started to become,” said the teenager, whose father is Khaled Al Qubaisi, the first Emirati to compete at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
“I'm not just representing my home town – I'm also representing the Arab region, so it's quite a lot of pressure, because I want to represent them well and get good results.”
She said that, until now, her teams haven't treated her “any differently because I'm female. It was just on track, [male drivers] don't like a girl to overtake them, so they [race] much dirtier and push me out. But I got used to that and started to gain the respect on track.”
Al Qubaisi's time driving with the Envision Virgin Racing team on track proved to be shorter then expected in as a crash that damaged the left rear of the car ended her test after only seven laps.
Of the incident, she explained: “The track was very dusty and there were some damp corners, and if you come off-line, you lose the car completely and you go in the wall.
“I lost the rear of the car and I hit the left rear on the wall. It wasn't a big impact, it was quite a light impact, but it still damaged a few parts of the car, so I had to retire.”
Despite that Al Qubaisi said she had found the whole experience to be beneficial and an useful learning exercise in her development.
“The car was nice,” she adds. “It was my first time to drive on a street circuit, so going through the corners was quite tricky. The Formula E car in general is a nice car to drive.”
Al Qubaisi's efforts impressed one of the most senior women in the Formula E paddock.
Susie Wolff, who is the team principal of the Venturi Formula E team, believed the chance to share time on the track with experienced racing drivers could only benefit Al Qubaisi going forward.
“The fact that we have this young Arab lady driving is brilliant," she said. "It's showcasing what's possible. It's giving her an opportunity to drive at the top level and show what she's capable of. It's a testament to the championship that they're giving these young women the chance.
“The final push to get a woman successful in Formula One, it's fundamentally increasing the talent pool – getting more young women into the sport, so that the best rises to the top.
"We're at the pinnacle of motorsport and it's tough for any driver to make it, regardless of gender. Give it time and we'll definitely see it.”
Al Qubaisi's next move is testing in Europe in preparation for the next season of the Formula 4 season, but another exciting option is currently on the table. However, she is unable to go on record about the specifics while negotiations are still under way on what she may be doing in 2019.
Suffice to say, it would represent another significant step on her rapid ascent up the motorsport ranks. The ultimate dream? To line up on the grid in her home town at the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“We have the best Formula One circuit in the world,” she said. “But we don't have an Emirati driver, so we need to start getting a lot of Arab people involved in the sport, because so far it's just me and my sister [Hamda, 16] – we'd like to see more Arab women, and men, to take part in the sport.”
She can also envisage Formula E making its bow in UAE in the near future, which would provide inspiration for both genders of Arab racers to come through the ranks.
“Riyadh is the first round in Formula E, so hopefully in the future we will see more in the Arab region, such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi – it would be another huge achievement to see that happening,” she said.
“I think Formula E, having the first run here in the Middle East, it's not just a big impact for [Arab] women, but also men. We haven't seen many male racers competing in Europe. It's a big step forward. Hopefully we'll see more [Arab] drivers, male and female, grow in motorsport.”
Updated: December 17, 2018 01:02 PM