The First Female Saudi Race Car Driver Talks Making History Ahead Of F1

"I’m using racing as symbol to encourage women in Saudi to accomplish their dreams and push their limits," says Aseel Al Hamad

The first-ever female Saudi Arabian Formula One driver, Aseel Al Hamad, is back in the UAE this weekend to celebrate the 10th-year anniversary of the Abu Dhabi Yas circuit. Since making history, she can't stop breaking boundaries: Al Hamad is also the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation. Having paved her way to success regardless of circumstance (like driving being illegal in her country at the time), what more is left for her to achieve? She assures us that she's got big plans for her country and for herself.

Ahead of F1 Abu Dhabi, taking place on Sunday, 25 November, Bazaar spoke to one of the most important figures in racing today.

Harper’s Bazaar Arabia : When did you first become interested in racing?
Aseel Al Hamad : Since I was young, I’ve always loved cars. It started from a small passion for car figurines as a kid, to slowly realising there was something called Formula 1. I’d watch it on TV and one day I decided to give it a try and eventually found the opportunity to train. It was a step-by-step process.

Aseel Al Hamad during a Formula One event

HBA: How did you start your journey as a race car driver?
AAH: I always dreamed of owning a sports car - but it didn’t make sense for me to own one, especially since I couldn't drive in Saudi. So back when I established my company in 2009, when I first started to make a profit from it, the only thing I wanted to buy was my dream car. I got my family’s blessing and bought it for myself anyway. I then took courses in Italy, Bahrain, London, and started becoming seriously involved in the racing industry. Gradually, I moved from being in a cool sports car to a single seater.

HBA: Where did you learn to drive? How did you feel not being able to learn in your home country?
AAH: Before getting my driver’s license, I used to drive on the private roads of our family farm in Saudi. My grandfather was adamant that his daughters and granddaughters knew how to drive. I was very lucky to have grown up in an amazing family that supported women. The reason I’m here today is because I never stopped, even when it wasn’t allowed...I still managed to find a way to follow my dreams.

HBA: What does your family think of your success?
AAH: I share all my goals and plans with them and they’ve always supported me in my work. They’re constantly there for me and even flew to Europe to watch me during my training.

Aseel Al Hamad getting ready for her lap at the Renault Sport Passion Parade

HBA: How do you prepare for a major race?
AAH: Racing isn’t just about driving a car, you have to be prepared mentally. I stay fit, I eat well and sleep regularly. All of this affects your thinking in the car, you constantly need to focus: when to break, who is next to you, etc. It’s a series of decisions and you need the ability to multitask on the spot. You must also work with your team, it’s not just you in the car, the whole team plays a part in the success.

HBA: What is your most memorable race?
AAH: My most memorable race was the day I drove a formula at the French Grand Prix 2018 on 24 June, the same day Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving. It was a huge way of celebrating women driving in Saudi and I felt so proud that I was doing it for my country and Saudi women. The news spread globally, and I hope I gave the right message. 

HBA: Why is it important for you to advocate for the women in your country? What message would you like to send to the younger generation of female race car drivers?
AAH: I’m using racing as symbol to encourage women in Saudi to accomplish their dreams and push their limits. Take my story for example: I accomplished things that were previously seen as impossible, so I want them to know that truly anything is possible. I didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to race in Saudi, therefore I want to be part of helping the next generation do just that. I want to be involved in opening academies and make driving popular for Saudi girls. Men have it already, it’s our turn to claim it.

HBA: What do you hope for the future of Saudi women?
AAH: They’re amazing as of today, I am so proud of them. From Vice Ministers to CEO’s, we have really great female leaders that are eager to support other Saudi women. These ladies have motivated myself, as well as the future generation, to keep pushing and to join in their successes.

Aseel Al Hamad posing with a young race car driver

HBA: What are your career goals for the future?
AAH: Using my passion for cars to help develop my country. I am especially in support of the youth of Saudi, so I definitely see myself working in that domain.

HBA: What are you most looking forward to for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Formula 1?
AAH: I’m so excited to be reunited with my Renault team, it’s always a great experience working with them.

HBA: If you could, what advice would you give to yourself when you first started out?
AAH: To be honest, I like the way it happened, not knowing where I was headed. But I’d tell myself to keep on going and checking off my goals.

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