As the clock ticked past midnight on Saturday and into Sunday, a group of women in Saudi Arabia started their engines and took to the streets to celebrate the end of the decades-long driving ban in the Kingdom. The celebrations reached as far as even France, where one woman, Aseel Al-Hamad, broke further ground by eschewing the family SUV or recently purchased coupé in favor of a Formula One car.
Al-Hamad, who is the first female member of her national motorsport federation, took the wheel of the same car (a Formula One Team E20 car) in which Kimi Raikkonen won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in a special parade one day ahead of Sunday’s French Grand Prix at Le Castellet to mark the momentous occasion.
Al-Hamad is a motorsport enthusiast and a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. She got her first experience of Formula 1 power at a Renault training day on June 5 at Le Castellet. Since then, she’s been at the forefront of the education and training of women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia. “I have loved racing and motorsport from a very young age and to drive a Formula 1 car goes even beyond my dreams and what I thought was possible,” she said. “It is a genuine honor to drive the Renault Sport Formula One Team E20 car in front of the crowds at its home, the Grand Prix in France. I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and spirit to dream.”
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to take to the roads at midnight on Sunday, June 24, 2018, ending the world’s last ban on female drivers. The historic lifting of the ban was ordered last September by King Salman, and is part of sweeping reforms pushed by his 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a bid to steer the economy of the Gulf country away from oil and modernize the culture. So far, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior has received more than 120,000 applications for driving licenses, according to Arab News.