Motorsport must encourage more women to compete, says Saudi female driver Aseel Al-Hamad

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Speaking exclusively to Arab News, Aseel Al-Hamad said the fact that only 1.5 percent of racing licences are held by women was “a big international issue.” (Photo: Faisal Albisher)
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Ahead of the Diriyah ePrix, Al-Hamad drove Porsche’s first all-electric road vehicle -- the Taycan -- from Dubai to Riyadh with former F1 driver Mark Webber. The model goes on sale in the Middle East in 2020. (Porsche)
Updated 22 November 2019

Motorsport must encourage more women to compete, says Saudi female driver Aseel Al-Hamad

  • FIA is hosting an event alongside the Nov. 22-23 Diriyah ePrix called “Girls on Track"
  • Said Kingdom hosting events like Formula E is vital in boosting popularity of motorsport

RIYADH: One of Saudi Arabia’s first female racing drivers believes motorsport is too male dominated and that more needs to be done to encourage women to enter the sport.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, Aseel Al-Hamad said the fact that only 1.5 percent of racing licences are held by women was “a big international issue.”

Al-Hamad, who is also the first female board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said that while there are some women blazing a trail in the sport, more needs to be done by its authorities.

“There are Formula 1 drivers like Tatiana Calderón, team principles such as Susie Wolff and Claire Williams. We also have female mechanical engineers and in all kinds of positions, but they are just a few. 

“We need to use them as role models to encourage more young girls to become like these amazing women,” she added.

Al-Hamad, who has been passionate about cars since her youth, told Arab News that she is a fan of Formula 1 and a highlight of her career was being invited to drive an F1 car, but her driving idol was Michèle Mouton.

“Because, back then in the 1980s, she competed in an all-men rally championship. And honestly, I don't think anyone did what she did at that time,” she said.

It is experiences like those that inspired her to forge a path for more women in motorsport and lead the way for female drivers in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Al-Hamad, who mixes racing with her interior design business, is one of the representatives on the International Automobile Federation (FIA)’s “Women in Motorsport Commission”, which creates programs and initiatives to encourage more young girls to be inspired by the sport and consider it as a career.

“I won’t forget the day I got contacted by the president of the Federation asking me to join the board of directors, it's great because I have lots of difficulties in my career and it's so great to now build a foundation for these young women and ensure that they won't go through the struggles and the challenges I went through,” she said.

On the possibility of one day seeing a Saudi female world champion in major motorsport such as F1 and Formula E, she said: “Today, it is possible, especially when we are seeing how the government is very much supporting sports and women’s participation in sport. 

“We have just recently started and we're starting really fast. I won’t be surprised to see a champion soon competing in big international events.”

Al-Hamad also said the Kingdom hosting events like Formula E is vital in boosting the popularity of motorsport in the country and the wider region. 

“Maybe most of the people used to watch football. But, today, when we have such international motorsport event, so many people will get closer to the motorsport and understand the rules. 

“And maybe these young generations, when they attend the race, they might get inspired and become fans of motorsport.” She added.

The FIA is hosting an event alongside the Nov. 22-23 Diriyah ePrix called “Girls on Track,” the second time such an event has been held outside of Europe.

“This event is very much focused on encouraging young girls from eight to 18 years old to discover their talents and motorsport, hopefully it will inspire them to consider a career in motorsport,” Al-Hamad said. 

The event will include educational workshops to introduce girls to a range of topics -- from mechanical engineering to motorsport journalism, as well as opportunities to use racing simulators and to drive on a carting track.

The girls will also take part in a panel discussion with some figurehead females in motorsport including Susie Wolff, team principal of Venturi Formula E. 

“We've approached mostly schools and we sent them invitations to have girls register and hopefully they will discover their talents,” Al-Hamad said.

Her advice to young women is to achieve what they dream for, even if they are dreaming big.

“They might have some fears at the beginning, they might think it's impossible. But my advice to them is to take small steps and just think of the steps with time, they will be surprised that they actually achieve their dreams,” she said.

Ahead of the Diriyah ePrix, Al-Hamad drove Porsche’s first all-electric road vehicle -- the Taycan -- from Dubai to Riyadh with former F1 driver Mark Webber.




Ahead of the Diriyah ePrix, Al-Hamad drove Porsche’s first all-electric road vehicle -- the Taycan -- from Dubai to Riyadh with former F1 driver Mark Webber. The model goes on sale in the Middle East in 2020. (Porsche)

The Taycan, which goes on sale in the Middle East in 2020, is the most powerful production electric model that the sports car manufacturer currently has in its product range, hitting 0-100kmh in 3.2 seconds.

On driving it, Al-Hamad said: “We wanted to test the performance of the car and it's great that we just arrived ahead of Porsche's debut in the Formula E this weekend.

“I love the handling, the feeling, it's a fast car, it has the same Porsche DNA in its interior and exterior. It is a beautiful car.”


Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

Updated 10 December 2019

Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

  • Michael Mmoh of USA and Ammar Al-Haqbani of Saudi Arabia to play
  • Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars

RIYADH: Two of the most exciting Saudi-born tennis stars will go head-to-head when in a showpiece exhibition match as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco.

Michael Mmoh (USA) and Ammar Al-Haqbani (KSA) – both 21 – will compete in front of an eager home crowd ahead of the final match of the $3 million tournament that has attracted eight of the world’s best players and the eyes of world tennis.

The special exhibition match will take place at 2pm Saturday, December 14th at the Diriyah Arena ahead of the final’s day of the Kingdom’s inaugural international tennis event.  

Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars, including three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, big-hitting US champion John Isner, and 2019’s most exciting breakthrough player, Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

American Michael Mmoh said: “I can’t wait to be coming back to Saudi Arabia and play in front of the local fans. It’s going to be a very special experience for me. 

“Having some of the best players in the world coming to the Kingdom can really inspire new fans to pick up a racquet and get on a court for the first time and play this great game.”

Ammar echoed that view, saying: “The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals.

“Watching closely as these big names compete at the Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path  in order to compete on the global stage in the future.”

Named after basketball icon Michael Jordan, Michael Mmoh was born in Riyadh; his father Tony – who peaked at world number 105 – Nigerian, who was a former Saudi-Arabian Davis Cup captain, and his mother from Ireland but an Australian citizen. When leaving the Kingdom aged 13, Michael’s first big move within the tennis world was, when he enrolled in the prestigious IMG Academy student-athlete school in Bradenton (Florida).

That decision and the hard work that followed paid off, with Michael climbing his way to world number two in the junior rankings. By 2018, he had broken into the Top 100 men’s players worldwide. Injury hampered his 2019, but it’s a year he hopes to end with a bang at Ad Diriyah as he closes back in on the Top 100 and seeks to add to his sixth ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2020.

His opponent Ammar Haqbani has followed just as interesting a path. One of three tennis-playing children of US-based Saudi diplomat Faleh Haqbani, Ammar started his tennis career aged five years old. He participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later, later scaling the heights to become the seventh best player on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings, and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.

Ammar is a leader in the Saudi national team in the Davis Cup since 2015 and has been a dominant figure in GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He was also the first Saudi Arabian player to win a gold medal in an international tennis competition.

Held on the outskirts of Riyadh, the three-day Diriyah Cup tournament will welcome eight leading ATP players: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland), John Isner (USA), Daniil Medvedev (Russia), David Goffin (Belgium), the Frenchmen Gaël Monfils and Lucas Pouille (France), Fabio Fognini (Italy), and Jan-Lennard Struff from Germany.

The Cup is one of several sporting spectacles taking place as part of the Kingdom’s 2019 Diriyah Season festival, which has already featured the Clash of the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Its 15,000-seater venue is set upon the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ad Diriyah, where the ancient mud-wall city will offer a breath-taking backdrop for three-days of hard-court tennis.