Saudi Arabian racing star Aseel Al-Hamad backs Formula E Riyadh race to inspire women drivers

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Aseel Al-Hamad has high hopes for both the Formula E race and women drivers in Saudi Arabia
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Updated 14 December 2018

Saudi Arabian racing star Aseel Al-Hamad backs Formula E Riyadh race to inspire women drivers

  • Formula E set to storm into the Kingdom, with capital to host inaugural race of new season
  • Al-Hamad hopes December race inspires women in country to get behind the wheel

ZURICH: The sight of fast, expensive cars racing around the monied streets of Zurich is nothing new; the place oozes cash and, for many, the two go hand in hand. 
That was the scene last month when Formula E revved into town as one of the 10 stopping points in its 12-race season. For some the sight of the same electric speed machines on the streets of Riyadh, when the city hosts next season’s opening race in December, will be equally fitting — the Saudi Arabia capital is known as a spot for fast cars and petrolheads. 
But for Aseel Al-Hamad the race will be about far more than who simply reaches the chequered flag first. For the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, the race could inspire a generation of Saudi women to get behind the wheel.
The all-electric ABB Formula E Championship will make its Middle East debut in Riyadh just six months after the ban on women driving in the country was lifted. Although details are scarce, it is understood that activities involving women drivers will be incorporated into the ground-breaking race on December 15. For Al-Hamad, who also represents her country on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, that could pave the way for Saudi women not only to drive for the first time, but also to dream big and become professional racers. 
“This is beautiful news for me. Our mission at the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission is to encourage the participation of women in all aspects of motorsport; not just racers, but as mechanical engineers, marshals, team managers, photographers and PRs,” Al-Hamad told Arab News. 
“We are so lucky that Formula E is happening after the ban was lifted because it’s a great way to push motorsport for women aggressively. “Could we see a Saudi woman racing driver in the future? Definitely.”
That the Formula E circus, rather than Formula One, is storming into the Kingdom just months after the female driving ban was lifted is perhaps apt. Unlike F1, three women have raced in Formula E since its inception in 2014, and in Susie Wolff the sport can boast of having a female team principle. As with Al-Hamad, the former test driver for the Williams F1 team hopes the Riyadh race can do a lot for women throughout Saudi Arabia. 
“Encouraging more women to be involved in motorsport is very important to me,” the principle of the Venturi Formula E outfit said. 
“(That’s) why I started my initiative ‘Dare to be Different’ — a call to action to inspire the next generation of women to see the opportunities within motorsport, on and off the track. 
“The start of the next season will bring lots of attention to the sport and the host city of Riyadh, but I will be firmly focussed on our debut performance at a new circuit and on ensuring the best possible result for the team.”
Motorsport is a tough sport, and on the streets of Zurich it was clear that, at least where Formula E is concerned, it is a highly competitive one as well. 
The 10-year deal between the General Sports Authority (GSA) and the city-based spectacle of speed was signed in May and will see the series not only make its Middle East debut, but also unveil its futuristic next-generation car. 
The race will be held in the picturesque Old City, Ad-Diriyah, on the outskirts of the capital, and Al-Hamad, who on the same day the female driving ban was lifted drove a Renault Sport F1 car in a parade before the French Grand Prix, insisted that it will accelerate interest in
motorsport across Saudi Arabia and the region.
The Kingdom held its first-ever international motorsport event, the Race of Champions, in February and Al-Hamad said: “The Race of Champions is a big international race and you could see many people who were not familiar with motorsport got introduced to it.
“This is a great opportunity to arouse passion in motorsport in the Middle East. Kids with a passion for this can see they can start training at an early stage and have a career in it.
“We are so happy to host an international race (series) that’s very popular. (Formula E) is the future of motorsport and the automotive industry in general. 
“Saudi has the Vision 2030, which is very much supporting the idea of leading the way in innovation in technology and industry, so this race is a great, symbolic initiative.”
Of the venue she added: “It’s a very historic area and it’s going to be a beautiful way to show the combination of new technology, which is Formula E’s super-fast cars, and the old heritage of Riyadh. There are old mud houses and beautiful palaces, so I believe this is going to be great exposure to the heritage and tradition of our beloved country.”
The move to give the green light to Riyadh opening next season’s championship — one which will see former F1 ace Felipe Massa join the grid alongside other famous names such as Nick Heidfeld and Nelson Piquet Jr — has also got the thumbs up from the teams. 
“(We are) extremely excited to race in Riyadh this December, particularly at such a pivotal time in Saudi Arabia with the Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 initiative diversifying its economy and nurturing new industries,” Jay Penske, Dragon owner and team principal, and CEO of Penske Autosport, told Arab News in Zurich. 
“We are proud that we and Formula E will have the opportunity to participate in Saudi Arabia’s vision for the future.”
James Barclay, Panasonic Jaguar Racing team director, said: “The Middle East has a wealth of passionate and knowledgeable motorsport fans that will welcome the series to the region. The Middle East is a key region for us to promote our electrification message ‘Race to Innovate’ and our electrified vehicles.”
The race in Zurich, the home of title sponsor ABB’s global headquarters, attracted an estimated 150,000 fans and illustrated that the sport, although still very much in the shadow of Formula One, has a popular and growing fanbase and a bright future. The series’ first-ever race took place only four years ago and it is already making loud noises in the motorsport world, with fans speculating whether it will one day get out of the slipstream of its better-known cousin and overtake it. 
Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Formula E, said he could not wait to get to the Riyadh race and introduce the series to a new destination.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the new cars and format in action against the backdrop of iconic city skylines, starting in Ad-Diriyah in December,” Agag said. 
That view was echoed by Michael Isaac, spokesman for ABB, a global technology company and leader in electrification, robotics and motion, said: “As title sponsor of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, we are delighted that the 2019 season will open in Riyadh in December. Saudi Arabia is one of ABB’s most important markets in the Middle East and we are committed to supporting the development with e-mobility and sustainable technologies.”


Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

Updated 13 December 2019

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

  • Day one of the three-day tournament saw Fognini, Monfils, Medvedev and Goffin through to the semi-finals

RIYADH: A new chapter was written today in Saudi Arabia’s sporting history as the first international tennis matches took place as part of the epic month of Diriyah Season.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will certainly go down in history as eight of the world’s best tennis stars met in the Diriyah Arena for the first-ever international tournament played in the Kingdom. 

The event also goes down in tennis history as not only the first in Saudi Arabia, but also one of the first to use Hawk-Eye Live technology. Replacing the need for line judges and providing more accuracy, Hawk-Eye Live sends visual and audio cues to the chair umpire and off-court monitors within a tenth of a second of a ball bouncing, to show faults and out of bounds shots without relying on the naked eye.

The first day as part of a three-day tournament saw all eight players in action in the opening matches. First up on court was Italian and world number 12 Fabio Fognini taking on American John Isner world number 19 and holder of the third fastest serve of all time in Men’s Tennis. Although both players will be written into the Kingdom’s history books, it was Fognini who was the record breaker as he delivered the first international serve and match win ever recorded, 7-6 6-4. 

Speaking after his win, Fabio Fognini said: “I won the first game of the competition, it’s nice. It’s something I will remember for sure and the people will remember as it is the first year we play here. I know they want to do something more [grassroots tennis], especially to improve tennis in this country so I’m happy.”

Commenting after the historic match, John Isner also added: “Very unique to be here and be part of this. I never thought I’d be here playing in Saudi Arabia. Very grateful and happy to be here. The ball kids did great tonight, fantastic job.”

Second up on the Diriyah Arena court was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, the world’s number 16, against Frenchman Gael Monfils the world’s number 10. Monfils took the win in straight sets 6-3 6-3. Monfils rallied the crowd by encouraging them to cheer and danced after some of his winning shots.

“So far it’s great. The offering they have here for us to perform is incredible. The court is one of the best…it’s quite nice. The people are very nice. I feel very good.” said Monfils.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany met in the third match of the evening. Medvedev made light work of Struff to take the win 6-3 6-1 and advance to the semi-finals.

Speaking after his win, Medvedev commented: “Was a great match. It’s never easy like this, after the end of the season, holidays and in the middle of pre-season to know how you are playing at this moment – are you strong or not? Today was a great match, beating Jan so easy is a great achievement because he’s a great player so I am really happy. The atmosphere was also really good and warm.”

In the final match of the night, Belgian’s David Goffin rallied with Lucas Pouille of France. Goffin took the final place in tomorrow night’s semi-finals beating Pouille 6-2 6-4.

After the match, Goffin commented: “Super organisation – the stadium is very nice. First time for me playing in Saudi, it’s a great atmosphere. I think for the people tonight it was something to see, professional tennis matches here. I think it was great for us and them as well. It’s a nice court and stadium – it could be a very nice center court in a big tournament.”

Today’s results will see Fognini of Italy meet Monfils of France in semi-final 1 and Medvedev of Russia will take on Goffin of Belgium on Friday 13th December. The remaining four players will still continue to play as part of the Consolation Bracket. The Diriyah Tennis Cup will conclude with the final on Saturday 14th December.