Mohammad Bin Sulayem has been always vociferous about developing the first-ever F1 driver from the region. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Abu Dhabi: The president of the Emirates Motor Sports Organisation (EMSO), Mohammad Bin Sulayem, backed Saudi Arabia in its drive to get a Formula One race on the calendar in the near future.

“In the past, some of the European nations have had two races in a year. We’ve got Bahrain and Abu Dhabi so far. I don’t see any reason why Saudi Arabia cannot join in,” he remarked.

“To sustain motorsport is not easy, but it’s doable. The returns can’t be in one, two or three years. One needs a consolidated plan. Saudi Arabia wants to have a F1 race and we want them to have it. Three races in the region can help the sport itself,” Bin Sulayem stressed.

A vice-president of the world governing body FIA and a member of the World Motor Sport Council since 2008, Bin Sulayem insisted that there is a need for all forms and variations of motorsport to be embraced in the region.

“To start with, we need to go back to rallying — this is very much a huge part of our heritage. Then we have the fundamental need for grassroots development through karting and smaller feeder series that will eventually prepare youngsters for the pinnacle of motorsport in Formula 1,” Bin Sulayem told a select group of media on the sidelines of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“There is also the comparatively new form of drifting that we also need to embrace. Or else, we will have these youngsters break away from the main sport body and we will be unable to do anything to stop them,” he added.

Bin Sulayem, who left on Friday to attend the FIM general assembly being held in Monaco this weekend, further insisted that the authorities and the governments in the region, more so in the UAE, need to work out a blend between the old and the new. “Endurance and cross country rallying are among the older forms of our sport but we have to recognise the fact that everything starts off with karting. That’s where future drivers are made,” he noted.

Mohammad Bin Sulayem speaks to mediapersons on the sidelines of F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Alaric Gomes/Gulf News

“In Europe, major sporting events are fan-driven whereas in the Middle East, these are more government-driven. So once we have the backing of our governments, then there is nothing to hold us back from delivering at each and every segment of our sport,” he added.

Champion from the region

Bin Sulayem also doesn’t see any reason why the UAE or any other country in the Middle East cannot produce a Formula 1 driver.

“Honestly, there can be no excuses for any of us not to have a driver here. We need a plan, a budget and the right execution going forward,” the rallying legend said.

The best prospect of attaining this dream, Bin Sulayem noted, is 11-year-old Emirati Rashid Al Daheri, whose most recent success came in Lonato, Italy where he finished second in the 8-12 Mini category of the WSK Open Cup at the end of October.

“This young boy travels around the world with a teacher so that he doesn’t miss out on his academics as well. This is the kind of commitment and dedication I am referring to,” he noted.

A three-year-old Al Daheri stood for hours before the Ferrari pit box during the Abu Dhabi F1 race way back in 2011, before being noticed and famously invited by the team to join them inside and have a closer look. He began his motorsport career in karting two years later after undergoing an intensive training programme in Italy.