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This 18-Year-Old Emirati Race Driver Is Going Where No Arab Woman Has Gone Before

At 18, most of us were applying for college or trying to get our first internship. But not Amna Al Qubaisi, who is at the forefront of breaking glass ceilings in the Arab world as the first female Emirati race car driver.

In 5 years’ time (when she is 23), she hopes to be participating in Formula 2. And that’s not the end goal. “Formula 1 is the main goal, but it’s not an easy journey — and I’m determined enough to reach that,” she tells me as we chat about the Formula E event that happened in Saudi Arabia last month.

Trained as a professional gymnast, Al Qubaisi took a detour from her chosen path while watching and cheering on her father, Le Mans racing driver Khaled Al Qubaisi, as he toured the world of motorsport. “When he spoke about racing and how he did different tracks around the world, meeting new drivers – that moment sparked [something in me] and I wanted to try a kart,” she reminisces. Shortly after, her father gave her a kart and started coaching her. There has been no looking back since then.

Al Qubaisi — who has already competed in Formula 4 in Europe and won the UAE’s senior Rotax Max Challenge karting series in 2017 — feels a sense calm behind the driving wheel. “Whenever I’m in a car, it’s my therapy. It keeps me focused. It’s like when you go to a therapist, that’s who I am when I drive. The car understands me,” she explains.

Speaking of Formula E at the Ad Diriyah ePrix in Saudi Arabia, Al Qubaisi feels immense pride. Joined by other female racing talent, the young Emirati driver (who is sponsored by Kaspersky Lab) took her place in the Envision Virgin Racing Team Formula E on the street circuit of Ad Diriyah in fully electric cars. While driving on the streets of Riyadh was momentous, she says it was seeing the locals and the energy that made the moment more special. The event had men and women attend the races and concerts in mixed groups, a first for the country. “Seeing so many of the locals watching the race on the stands [was] amazing. We can see how interested these people are in motorsport. That’s already a big step,” she comments.

With a competitive line-up of female drivers, the event proved to be revolutionary and shone a spotlight on the government’s commitment to women driving since the lifting of the ban on June 24, 2018. Al Qubaisi says the number of female racing drivers came as a pleasant surprise, but hopes to see more local faces on the track. “I’m glad to be the first — and hopefully I’m not the last. I have my sister [Hamda Al Qubaisi] following my footsteps. Hopefully in the future we see more Arabs involved in motorsports.”

Read Next: 3 Saudi Women on The Impact of Ad Diriyah And What It Means for Their Country and Their Lives

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