Petrolhead with a knack for the podium

Nahla Al Rostamani, herself a race car driver, will be handling logistics at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend.

Nahla Al Rostamani, Team relations Officer at Yas Marina. During the Grand prix she works in the race control centre and also organises the podium ceremony. Duncan Chard for the National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI// Nahla Al Rostamani has always loved motorsport, and admits to being a "petrolhead". The proud owner of two cars and the first Emirati woman to obtain a licence to race in national competitions, she is no stranger to speed.

So the 27-year-old Emirati will be putting her passion into her work this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Her assignment - enviable yet trickier than one might presume - is to steer the winning drivers to the victory podium.

"I am going to a racetrack, a place where I love to be. I deal with a lot of stress and a lot of work but it's fun and I really enjoy it," she said.

She began her motorsport career at the Dubai Autodrome as a volunteer. Her job was to show VIPs and royalty around the pit lane and to their seats, explaining the ins and outs of the events.

After two years, she was on the Autodrome's payroll as a marketing assistant but she extended her role in the sport.

"I was involved in so many things, from events to paddocks, the racing academy and even in organising the racing," she said.

Her determination behind the wheel caught the attention of her peers at the Autodrome.

"They said I should go to Bahrain [to get the racing licence]," she said.

She did get her Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) C licence, which allowed her to take part in national races, but decided to keep her day job to further her career.

"I wanted to gain more knowledge and experience in motorsport and that's why I left racing," she said.

She sent her CV to Yas Marina Circuit before it officially opened.

"I never put my hopes up. Either if I'm here or there I do enjoy what I'm doing. The difference between the Autodrome was it didn't have a grand prix. That was when I started to make targets and goals in my life and decided what I wanted to do," she said.

The Yas circuit hired her to work as a team relationship officer, and she has been there ever since.

Besides her racing licence, Ms Al Rostamani holds an FIA licence for timing races, making her not only the first person in the UAE to do so, but also the first Arab.

It is more than just holding a stopwatch, she said. "Everyone thinks that. It's a complicated system."

A number of computers are linked to different speed traps around the circuit as well as to transponders in the cars.

"If anything went wrong we'd have to check the system. During the race, depending on the race director, if there are any penalties or any delays we have to reduce or increase the timing. It can get complicated and you have to be really into it," she said.

To get the licence, she needed two years' experience, which she got after assisting at the Autodrome and at Yas.

"It's not really a test. I was observed by an official who assessed me and saw I was capable and could deal with the issues," she said.

This weekend, however, she will be the observer, watching the Formula One race directors when they come to Yas Marina's race control.

She said their requirements to monitor the race can be complicated.

"They are very specific about it," she said. They will want four chairs to be a certain place at a table of a certain size. That's the whole thing about F1, they are so professional and very straight. They know what they want," she said.

On race day, Ms Al Rostamani will be responsible for all the podium ceremonies.

"There is a whole protocol," she said. No one is allowed to talk to the drivers when they first come up.

"When the presenter is out on the podium they have to know what trophy to give to who. From the back drop, the inserts, the carpet, the flowers, the towels, the caps and it's for all races and national anthems," she said.

Communication with the rest of the team is key she said but an appreciation for the job makes it easier.

"If you want to be in motorsport you have to be really passionate about it. Even if it was for nothing, I'd do it," she said.