UAE's first female F3 driver shatters gender stereotypes

UAE's first female F3 driver shatters gender stereotypes
Nahla Al-Rostamani is the first Emirati female certified race timekeeper. (Supplied)
Updated 02 August 2019

UAE's first female F3 driver shatters gender stereotypes

UAE's first female F3 driver shatters gender stereotypes
  • Nahla Al-Rostamani began defying the rules at age 12 when her uncle taught her to drive
  • Al-Rostamani has served as chief timekeeper and deputy circuit manager at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit

DUBAI: Gender stereotypes were common for Arabs growing up in the late 20th century. Defying the rules was a challenge.

For Nahla Al-Rostamani, the UAE’s first female F3 driver, defying the rules started at the age of 12, when her uncle taught her to drive. Passionate about motorsports, she got behind the wheel at every opportunity.

“I’ve always had a curiosity about driving. Even at theme parks, I’d choose bumper cars,” Al-Rostamani said.

The now 35-year-old racer remembers karting almost every day at the Dubai Autodrome before getting her racing license in Bahrain.

“I’d accepted to travel to Bahrain all alone to undergo a three-day training program and get the Formula Ford license,” she said. “After successfully passing the challenging race track, the team told me that I was the first Emirati girl to take this course and pass it.

“I was over the moon. It made me want to push further and achieve more.”

After studying media with the dream of becoming a world-renowned journalist, the motorsports professional suddenly realized she was following the wrong goal.

“I sacrificed a lot in order to pursue my passion for motorsports. I gave up other ambitions and goals in life, even spending time with my family, to develop my driving skills. I wanted to challenge myself and prove that women can do the impossible,” she said.

“I was surrounded by men who didn’t believe in my passion and talent. I was constantly put down by people who refused to teach me or even befriend me. I had the obstacles of tradition and culture around me from birth, but that didn’t stop me from doing what I love.”

In 2007, Al-Rostamani returned to the Autodrome, where she worked fulltime as a marketing coordinator. No job was too small for the ambitious racer. She volunteered and learnt how to keep the timing for races, getting to greet world-famous F1 drivers at special events.

As the first Emirati female certified race timekeeper, Al-Rostamani soon emerged as a key figure on the tracks.

“I always wanted to do more than just marketing. I made sure to include myself in every race, walk through the paddock to learn everything, and talk to drivers whenever I could,” she said. “That’s when I volunteered to learn how to do the timings for the races. After working on over 40 races, I got my license.”

Working her way up the career ladder, Al-Rostamani assumed greater responsibilities at the Yas Marina Circuit (YMC) in Abu Dhabi, serving as chief timekeeper and deputy circuit manager.

“After a couple of years at the Autodrome, I accepted a new challenge with the YMC, and that meant being involved with F1,” she recalled. “I started marshalling, doing race control and track prep. I quickly became deputy circuit manager. Through my role, I was honored to meet great racers and people in motorsports and became friends with well-known drivers. I viewed my job as a passion and my baby. I took care of the track, whether it meant cleaning debris or painting it, getting it ready to welcome F1. I spent more time on the track than with my family.”

Al-Rostamani expects her efforts to advocate for women in motorsports in the UAE to continue through her daughter. With a remarkable 15-year career behind her, this pioneer sees no finishing line for the race against gender stereotypes.