Rashid Al Dhaheri became the first OKJ title winner of 2021 with his victory in the WSK Champions Cup at Adria. This isn’t the first time that the Emirati driver has been able to storm to the front of the European karting scene and now people are starting to ask who he is and just how good can he be.
By Paddock Insider
The United Arab Emirates is a country that doesn’t have a long racing history, but it does have a strong passion for motorsport. From the Grand Prix of Dubai in 1981 through to the current event at Abu Dhabi in Formula One, the country is starting to become a force to be reckoned with. And with the emergence of Rashid Al Dhaheri (12 years old, 13 this year) as a serial race winner in Europe now as well as the UAE, it may not take long before the country gets its first Formula One driver.
“My passion for motorsport started at a young age,” says Rashid. “Our house in Abu Dhabi was just 10 minutes from Yas Marina Formula 1 Circuit – close enough to hear the roar of the engines.
“When I was three years old, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit, and from there my passion for motorsport was seeded, and grew. I developed a love for racing. Watching the strategy between teams, the fast pace of the sport, so many elements came together to fascinate me. From these experiences, I gained great inspiration to pursue motorsport and began karting.”
Growing up in a country that has a developing infrastructure for motorsport could have been a stumbling block for Al Dhaheri, but instead he has taken it as an opportunity.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm for motorsport in the UAE and there is a growing culture in this area, with many people holding a passion for this sport,” he explains. “There is great enthusiasm nurtured by well-known racing tracks, including Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi – a highlight of the racing calendar, it has become a fixture of the last race in the Formula 1 championship.
“Additionally, there is the Dubai Autodrome which holds a lot of major racing events including a karting track, in fact I have raced there multiple times, including for the Dubai O Plate karting race. As well as the racing tracks, there is also Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi boosting the motorsport culture here and putting the UAE on the motorsport map. There are other racing categories featured in the UAE too – the well-established Formula 4 UAE championship has reached its fifth season in the UAE. Also, the Formula 3 Asian Championship saw five back-to-back races run in the UAE, so we’re gaining in momentum every year.”
Like many drivers from the region, Rashid elected to compete in European karting which has helped develop and mature him into a rounded athlete, able to deal with any circumstance.
“I have been fortunate enough to be racing in Europe since I was six years old, so I have changed and developed throughout my formative years. I started early as I recognized that this would serve to advance my motorsport racing skills. In this respect, Europe is the foremost place in the world to develop motor racing skills and in particular Italy.
“I speak four languages, Arabic, Italian, German and English. My fluent Italian helps me to easily communicate with the team’s mechanics and I am proud to say that I can speak to a level that I have even had Italians ask if I come from Rome.”
The sky is genuinely the limit for Rashid Al Dhaheri as he quested from the national karting scene through to Mini 60 where he won many races and he claimed second in the season finale of the Champions of the Future – the warm-up to the FIA Karting World Championship, and is now a race winner in OK Junior, and not just in any series but WSK – a recognised path to the top of motorsport. So what does the future hold?
“My ultimate goal is to reach Formula 1, of course I recognise that this is a grand objective and reaching there will not come easily and not be delivered on a silver platter. I will work hard and push myself and with support I hope to be able to reach this target.
“I will take it step by step and learn along the way. I am focused on what is in front of me and there is an aim to reach Formula 4, which is the next step up from karting.
“I have just moved up to the OK-Junior category in karting and I have great focus upon this season, working with the Parolin racing team to achieve a great deal together in this area. I hope to build upon the great successes I gained during my races and championships in the Mini category, and to achieve this I am training hard and willing to put in the extra miles.”
With his opening campaign of the season ending in victory in the Champions Cup, there’s no telling how far he can push in 2021. The world championship is at the end of this year, and the organisers may want to prepare the UAE flag and national anthem as it could be heard on the top step for the very first time this year.