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rashid al dhaheri

Inside Line: Why I have an F1 hunch about Rashid Al Dhaheri

Italian F4 debut season 2023 prema Inside Line: Why I have a F1 hunch about Rashid Al Dhaheri

Rashid Al Dhaheri – we told you all to remember the name – and again a refresher for our readers on the Emirati lad, who finished with an illustrious karting career in Italy, and is now stepping up to Italian Formula 4 with Prema, and I continue to have a hunch he will go all the way to Formula 1.

You may ask: for a largely F1 site that does not report on the ‘little leagues’ why would this be of interest? Allow me to explain: After meeting Rashid, and his folks Tanja and Ali, the trio regulars at Dubai Kartdrome [when I worked as Comms Manager for Dubai Autodrome] where the young lad would spend hours doing laps at the venue, tiniest of the lot in his Bambino kart amid Rotax Micros, and Minis during free practice.

Over time I assisted with Rashid’s early media needs as much as I could beyond my Autodrome duties, and a friendship developed and has been sustained over the years between Ali and I, as we plot and discuss Rashid’s racing career over the years, which continues to this day. I always felt my advice was well-digested, and that is enough when advising on a matter no less than getting a driver to F1.

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And we have run occasional reports on our site, a driver to watch for the future and hope F1 Team Principals will learn of the name and keep tabs on it, it’s never too early.

In a nutshell, Rashid’s folks were parents who initially knew nothing much of motorsport but were piqued by their son’s passion, whereupon they proceeded to provide him with the ideal platform to race, to the point that Ali would now, probably, teach most a thing or two on how to get your son into F4, and he will learn rapidly as Team Rashid (my reference to the project) make no secret that F1 is the target.

With his family based in China and Rashid racing in Italy, logistics have been challenging

rashid al dhaheri uae racing driver karting

Meanwhile, living in China, where Ali was assigned to UAE diplomatic duty, Rashid’s resolve and desire to race was severely tested. Throw in COVID-19 where he spent close to two years separated from his family, a period of solitude interrupted only by racing, when allowed during that lockdown period, and studying which he has all along while teaching himself piano!

Logistics remain tricky for a family from Abu Dhabi, missioned to Beijing with Rashid racing in Italy! Hence, part of Team Rashid is his ‘brother’ Paul Chatenay who coached him in the early Bambino and SWS Karting days, as well as former F3000 driver Fausto Ippolito, a privateer kart team owner campaigning the traditional Italian championships, who remained on the journey, as a brother, protector, driver, coach and all-round mate.

And that to me was evident from day one, Rashid has an amazing personal support network, another factor that makes his rise through the ranks amid the perils and polemics of motorsport so unique.

Notably and smartly, Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) are on board with Team Rashid, clearly, they realise the potential in their asset, in an age when F1 drivers need government backing and billionaire fathers to make up the ladder from F4, F3, F2 to the very top.

With four F1 races in the GCC, an Arab F1 driver is in high demand

abu dhabi grand prix aerial yas marina cicuir

The UAE corporate world is also awakening to the fact that a local driver could end up in F1, and being on the same journey for potential partners, from now on, won’t hurt and in fact if well spun, could turn Rashid the ‘poster boy’ for safe driving in the region that suffers over 5,000 vehicle-related deaths annually. “Race on tracks, not roads” could be a message to his Arab generation.

To summarise Rashid’s racing career, I pinch from bio: In 2011, at the age of three, Rashid’s motorsport journey started with his first visit to the newly established Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix. Oozing enthusiasm, and immense patience, he stood in front of the Ferrari pit box for hours, excited about what was going on: the sound of the engines, the teams’ work on the cars’ setups, the drivers’ focus, and the pit stop practices.

The obvious passion and curiosity were noticed by the Ferrari team, upon which they took Rashid inside the garage. And from that moment on, Rashid knew what he wanted. Not long after that experience at Yas Marina, he was doing laps in a bright red Bambino kart at Al Ain Raceway, donned in Ferrari overalls and a Fernando Alonso helmet that triggered his early nickname: ‘Little Alonso’ by the local media. He soon outgrew it to become, very much, his own man. It was an intriguing story, of a kid with no F1 background, clearly showing that racing is in his blood, even the New York Times picked up on it.

Officially, Rashid’s first karting experience took place in the UAE in January 2013

rashid al dhaheri

During the following summer, he undertook a training program in Italy, leading to Rashid’s first race participation at Al Ain Raceway (UAE) on the 4 October, the opening round of the 2013-2014 UAE Championship, in which he finished as runner-up.

Since then, Rashid has won multiple races and titles; among them, he is a record-holder in his home country as the five-times Dubai O Plate Champion, he is also Macao International Kart Grand Prix Champion and won the 2019 WSK Euro Series in the 60 Mini category and the WSK Super Master Series. In 2021, he moved to the OKJ class, winning the WSK Champions Cup and the WSK Super Master Series.

In 2022, at 14, Rashid was invited to participate in the – 19th Supercorso Federale – of the Italian Motorsport Federation and also became the first Arab driver to be signed up by the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) Scouting World Finals.

“That year, Prema Racing announced that Rashid will join the team and make his single-seater car racing debut in the 2023 FIA F4 Italian Championship, on his birthday he became eligible to race the series and is again thrust in the deep end.”

On the eve of his bid debut, into the real world of car racing, a mere three steps from Formula 1 on a grid packed with rivals all set to impress bigger teams, even catch the eye of teams in the top flight, after all it was around the age Lewis Hamilton caught the eye of McLaren’s Ron Dennis… and we know how that turned out!

Talk of F1 is a dream as the immediate journey ahead is packed with even greater challenges

202307 Rashid al dhaheri F4 rookie season 6

Indeed, Rashid has a long journey ahead of him, but he well knows that the ball is in his court to deliver and of course, Fate, with the best of the best at his disposal with Prema, that hunch of mine says he will excel.

With that said, and answering why the fuss about an F14 driver, as you now see this is a special one and we will keep tabs on his journey, starting with this weekend’s opening round of the F4 Italian Championship at Imola, I will ‘drive’ the Rashid Al Dhaheri Fan Bus – a virtual one – by inviting our readers on board as we go on this journey starting this weekend at Imola, a fitting motorsport shrine for Rashid to make his car racing debut after an illustrious karting career, following a young driver intent on making it to F1, our cause celebre so to speak.

I must admit parental-style trepidation when checking out the Italian F4 test results from Imola last week, but when I discovered them on Formula Scout: 13th, not too bad for the rookie!

As for his teammates at the reigning Italian F4 champion Prema team, apart from rookie Rashid, they have highly-rated McLaren junior Ugo Ugochukwu, the American starting as favourite after a season in British F4, as is Ferrari Junior James Wharton who finished fifth in the F4 standings last year

The older and more experienced duo provide Rashid with a strong benchmark in his rookie season, and the goal as he embarks on this next phase of his racing career, in Rashid’s own words: “There is clearly the ultimate goal of reaching F1. However, this is a very long and challenging journey, which contains various factors.”

Rashid: Coming from Karting where I raced previously, everything changes

rashid al dhaheri

He acknowledged: “I’m very lucky to be from the UAE which clearly supports sports, invests in their youth and offers so many chances for the youth to follow their dreams. Also, it is evident that f1 interest in the Arab region is growing, hosting four F1 races this year is an example of that. There is a clear interest in our region, and I will do the utmost from my side to deliver for them.”

As for the year ahead, Rashid said: “This will be my debut in Formula 4 and we know that the Italian Championship has always been extremely competitive with the best drivers from all over the world, many with one or two years of experience in F4.

“The key will be to learn as much as possible in my first year in single seaters and adapt to the various dynamics of working with the car, understanding the tires, improving my race craft as well as working with a bigger team compared to what I was used to previously.

“I am very happy with the preparation we have done coming into this season’s debut and the progress I have made personally, but it is difficult to give you an answer with a numerical target. So, I would say that for me the best achievement will be to learn as much as possible, especially at the beginning of the season, and then keep improving in every area of the work we have. My target is to be well prepared for the F4 winter season in the Gulf,” added Rashid.

My advice to Rashid: Be more like Prost than Senna

prost-senna-McLaren 1989

Finally, as he begins the most important weekend of his life, my advice to Rashid is [obviously] long-worded but heartfelt: “Racing F4 in the shadow of Ayrton Senna’s statue – a driver I greatly admire more than all – I urge you, Rashid, to rather take a leaf out of Alain Prost’s book.  I have seen all three of you in action, closely, as only photographers can.

“I hope you will be more like the Frenchman, The Professor, a 54 times Grand Prix winner, four times the F1 World Champion, be like him be smart, win many races, make your mark and live long. The advice I would give my own son if he were in your shoes. Ayrton would agree.

“Your speed is natural, your racecraft of the highest order. You are the second youngest driver on the Italian F4 grid this year, all of you are eager and talented youngsters, the best of the best, with the same F1 dream, what makes you – Rashid – special is your brain, how you rationalise on track and off track, coupled with the essential support network you have in Paul, Fausto, your family and, now, the immense expertise you will find at Prema.

“Learn, learn learn, sponge as much information as you can, stay out of trouble, pick your battles, study your teammates, beat them eventually, but get better and better every time you sit in your car as you did in Karting. Where you are today is why you and your loved ones made all those big sacrifices. Seize the moment, maximise it for yourself and all of us who believe in your F1 dream will be rewarded. And also, remember: Always Full Gas!”

For the readers, join us on the journey, get on the Rashid Al Dhaheri ‘Fan Bus’ as we keep you posted on a need-to basis to start with and remember where you heard the name, and kept hearing it!

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Follow the 2023 F4 Italian Championship season opener at Imola this weekend here>>>