I want to inspire young Arabs, says Emirati teenager on road to F1 stardom

Rashid Al Dhaheri, 15, holds record as a five-time Dubai karting champion

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Rashid Al Dhaheri's biggest dream is to be Formula One's next star.

The Abu Dhabi schoolboy, 15, is well on his way to a successful car-racing career following his 2023 debut for Prema Racing in Imola, Italy, where he finished in the points during the first round of the Italian Formula 4 Championship.

But Rashid's main goal is to inspire young Arabs and show that the UAE can make it in top-flight Formula One racing.

“My ultimate dream is to reach F1 with the help of my country,” he told The National. “I would like to show the West that we are a modern evolving nation which achieves amazing results through hard work and dedication.”

In his striking Huawei and Yas Heat sponsored car, Rashid is on the F4 grid packed with drivers a year or two older than he is, many of whom have years of experience in the series. They include the sons of F1 drivers and others affiliated with F1 teams.

“I'm aware that I'm the youngest driver on the grid, but I fight for each position,” he said.

Rashid said he was willing to make sacrifices to get to the top. “I want to show that everything is possible and inspire young Arabs to set their goals and work hard knowing that they, too, can achieve them,” he said.

He names twice F1 champion Fernando Alonso, who he first met at the Abu Dhabi circuit in 2011, as his favourite driver. He said they have since met several times and the top-flight driver “has always been kind”.

I'm aware that I'm the youngest driver on the grid, but I fight for each position
Rashid Al Dhaheri

The young driver turned 15 on April 8 this year. He started in the sport at the age of six and spent many years competing at the highest levels of karting.

He credits his journey to the generosity of the UAE government, adding that his success would not have been possible without the help from UAE leaders believing in his talent.

“Karting was manageable in terms of finance with the help of some partners, but it's not possible for formula racing to be financed by a private person,” he said. “I am extremely grateful that our leaders trusted in me and gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by supporting my formula racing.”

Rashid was only three years old when his parents took him to watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for the first time. It was then, he said, that he discovered his love for the sport.

“From that moment a fire started within me,” he told The National. “I knew what I wanted to do and be. No one in my family had any connection to motorsports.”

His family had no roots in the sport, but supported his dream and allowed him to take part in karting at Al Ain Raceway at the age of four, despite onlookers “laughing at his young age”.

As soon as he stepped into his first kart, the thrill, speed, techniques and atmosphere hooked him.

But it hasn't all been plain sailing, he said, admitting that there were many ups and downs, such as travelling to and from the UAE and China — where his father was often away on business — and being away from his family.

However, that didn't slow him down.

“It just inspired me to work even harder to reach my goal” he said. “In the GCC, we currently host four F1 races. People are very enthusiastic about cars, so it would be great to have our countries represented at the highest level of motorsports.”

After that first experience of karting in 2013, Rashid took a training programme in Italy before returning to Al Ain Raceway for the opening round of the 2013-14 UAE Championship. He finished runner-up in his first race.

Since then, he has achieved great success, becoming a record-holder in the UAE as a five-time Dubai Kartdrome O-Plate champion, Macao International Kart Grand Prix Champion and World Series of Karting champion.

In 2019, he decided to settle in Italy to cut down on the amount of travelling he had to do. His mother and sisters moved from the UAE to join him.

Despite racing at speeds of up to 250 kph on circuits, Rashid is not old enough to drive on public roads in the UAE.

“My mother always makes fun of the fact that someone has to drive me to the circuits, as I'm not old enough to drive,” he said.

When he is not speeding around the track, he is studying for his high school diploma, working on his Arabic and spending time in the gym.

“Honestly, I don't have much free time left as I have almost a full-time racing career,” he said.

This year, he made his F4 debut with Prema racing in Imola, Italy.

His helmet paid homage to his Emirati heritage, and featured the UAE's falcon, the UAE national flag and sporting quotes from President Sheikh Mohamed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

“I like falcons. They are beautiful, sharp and smart,” he said. “Falcons are a symbol of strength and endurance. I enjoy watching them when they spot their prey and attack with speed and precision, just like something I try to do at the track.”

Updated: May 09, 2023, 6:47 AM