Rashid Al Dhaheri
Rashid Al Dhaheri Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE’s international karting champion Rashid Al Dhaheri will miss his home Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for the first time in years but will be cheering on every session ahead of a big 2022 racing season for the 13-year-old.

This weekend sees the Formula 1 season finale happening in his place of birth — Abu Dhabi — on Sunday night and either Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen will be crowned 2021 F1 champion — Lewis for an eighth time or Max for his first title.

Both these top drivers of this era began their respective journey’s in karting, racing around Europe, particularly in Italy — the hub of international karting. The exact same ladder to the top of the sport that Al Dhaheri is on right now, racing the very same tracks that the legends of F1 raced on. Their photos on the walls of numerous trackside snack bars are a reminder of the well trodden path to the top, from Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher through to Nico Rosberg, Hamilton and Verstappen as well as every driver on the F1 grid.

For Rashid, F1 is still his dream, but he knows that before that there is a great deal of hard work starting with next season when he will be racing predominantly in Europe such as Italy, Spain and Sweden and select international championships.

Also on his 2022 agenda is his first taste of Formula 4, upon which he will dovetail his karting commitments with comprehensive testing with a top team as he progresses from karting to single-seater racing.

Al Dhaheri said: “Next year I will focus my karting season on the OK Senior Category. The aim is to do as well as possible in all the races and see where we are at the end of the year. Of course, being a champion in whatever I enter is always the goal. It will be very competitive as always.”

School commitments mean Rashid will miss the decisive weekend at Yas Marina Circuit because studies remain a priority too.

“School has supported me a lot,” he said. “We’ve been able to cooperate well during all the time I’ve been racing in Italy.

“I’ve always gone back and forth and whenever I was at my base, I worked entire days to catch up with school and also worked ahead. With lots of hard studies I always catch up, it’s always been a matter of catching up.

“Now with COVID, I’ve been on Zoom a lot. And I’ve been doing meetings with the teachers online and they’ve helped me out.

Needless to say, Rashid is a huge F1 fan and has had his heroes, Fernando Alonso being the first, which triggered the nickname ‘Little Alonso’ — the kid from Abu Dhabi with a precocious talent who won the hearts and minds of those who witnessed his rise through the ranks of top-level karting.

These days he respects all the drivers for simply getting to F1, and of course, he still respects veteran Alonso but is also inspired by the young guns of the sport including the likes of Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and even Mick Schumacher.

As for the title contenders Hamilton and Verstappen, Rashid — who lights up with talk of F1 — is among the neutrals and wants the best man to win on the night. “For me, it’s a great season,” he said. “I feel that from the middle of the season, we could have expected a few more battles on track.

Unfortunately, a couple of the races ended up with them crashing, another one they almost crashed. Of course, it’s been a big team effort.”

“I think, for Max, he’s been good in many races. The only thing is that he has a few crashes. So that’s the only, negative. I think Lewis has been a bit more consistent but hasn’t been able to win as much as Max did.”

“Anyone can win it. If Max wins it, I think it is good for the sport to have someone different and a young driver. Also to see Red Bull back at the top.”

“If Lewis wins, it will just show what a great driver he is, one of the greatest, with Mercedes always the team to beat providing him with great cars.”

“I hope the best man wins the championship,” added Rashid.

For now, winter in Europe is not very kart friendly, but early January Rashid will be back in action testing and racing, no doubt inspired by whoever wins the season finale in his hometown on Sunday for the next landmark year in Rashid’s path to the top.