Following his stint in the Academy, Mohamed has competed in many endurance kart races across Europe and this year competes in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship with Citroen and Abu Dhabi Racing. Potential connections with the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team are hard to ignore, especially considering Nasser Al Attiyah and Khaled Al Qassimi’s recent forays into the WRC. Much like the other members of his 2011 class – which includes European Formula 3 frontrunner Alexander Lynn and GP3 race winner Lewis Williamson – Mohamed attests that the Academy proved a significant step in his career.
“Being selected for the FIA Young Driver Excellence Academy was a really big thing for me, and a big thing for my country. They don’t necessarily teach you about driving but they put you on the right path, so you can find sponsors, gain experience and know how to develop yourself. I was able to get in contact with different people, get my name out there on the motorsport scene, and that made it easier to get sponsors. It showed how much progression I had made as a driver.”
Barry is similarly enthusiastic about the Academy, but while he feels that young drivers like Mohamed receive an important stepping stone through the FIA programme, it is not the region’s final solution.
“The FIA Excellence Academy is great, really top quality,” he explains. “The FIA are doing their best to encourage young drivers, and they take the best drivers from each region. But what I’m expecting is that to be rolled out in the region. I would like to see a programme announced and run locally.
“This initiative, which is a good one, produces training for just one driver from a population of 40,000,000. Personally I would like to see an Academy funded in the UAE to help train young drivers from around the region – say 12 per year – because it will be interesting to see how many young drivers they can find.”
Another solution, Barry proffers, is budget championships. An easy suggestion but one that proves difficult to get off the ground (a sea of failed championships in Britain alone, including A1GP, Formula 2 and Superleague), especially when interest is fleeting. Formula Gulf 1000 however enters its third season in 2013/14, and prides its success on a simple framework.
“There are some championships that are dying for the same sort of reasons – budgets,” Barry continues. “But you take something like Formula 4, which is very similar to what Formula Gulf 1000 does: it has the right backing, supported by the BRDC; you’ve got Formula 1 drivers turning up at the events; they run at good circuits; they have television coverage; it’s run by the best company in the UK, which is Motorsport Vision; and they sold all 23 cars within four weeks. Done deal, because it was a budget championship, like ours. It needs that package, that combination. And we don’t quite have that in the UAE yet.
“The question now is where should that come from. Should it come from the government, should it be the Dubai or Abu Dhabi sports council, or should it be the FIA, who have a huge interest of developing young drivers for the sake of the sport?”
This point in particular is significant for Mohamed. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, the Emirati took an opportunity that came his way knowing the effort involved beforehand. As has been mentioned, a lack of incentive can only hinder progress.
“The mentality of young drivers can differ,” he explains. “A lot of them think they should have everything they need from the start. A lot of them take support for granted and they don’t work hard to reach the level where they deserve to get sponsors. The academy pushes the drivers to keep going, but others will give up because they can’t find the sponsorship. It’s about pushing yourself and never giving up.”
“They need a role model from above,” Barry chimes in. “A really well known public figure. Hypothetically if you had His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum racing single seaters, all of a sudden local drivers would take huge interest. But that’s never happened, which is unfortunate.”
Local motorsport aspirants in their teens or early twenties will be hoping then that they’ll be one of the lucky ones come 22-25 September. The FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy is a significant development for their careers, one which the UAE can’t fully produce just yet. As has been discussed though, that doesn’t mean regional motorsport is dead in the water.
– Shots courtesy of David Benson