From school to an F1 car

In motor racing, the earlier one starts the better. And Muhammad Nabil Jan Al Jeffri is surely on the right track, so to speak.

By James Jose

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Published: Sat 20 Nov 2010, 10:55 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:52 AM

While most 16-year-olds would be at school, Jeffri does goes to school but has already driven a Formula One car.

The Malaysian became the youngest ever test driver in Formula One when he did a day of straight line aero test for Lotus Racing Team at the Imperial War Museum at the Duxford Airfield in the United Kingdom in September.

He wasn’t at the two-day Young Drivers Test held at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi which followed the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Rodolfo Gonzalez and Vladimir Arabadzhiev were behind the wheel of T127. Jeffri was busy preparing for his National School Exam and the Formula BMW race in Macau.

But Jeffri, who is part of the AirAsia ASEAN Driver Development programme was pretty excited about his first taste of Formula One. Jeffri completed the day’s testing, and gave the team valuable pit stop practice in the Lotus Cosworth T127, which was overseen by Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne.

Prior to the test, Jeffri was stationed in Hingham, Norfolk, the home-base of the Lotus Racing Team for two days for technical briefings and seat-fittings.

With the test, Jeffri became only the third Malaysian to drive a Formula One car after former Formula One driver Alex Yoong and Lotus Racing’s test driver, Fairuz Fauzy.

In an interview, the Go-kart prodigy spoke about his day under the sun with a Formula One team. Excerpts:

How does it feel to be the youngest Formula One Test driver?

Firstly, I feel very honoured and I am happy that I got chosen for the Lotus F1 aero test in Duxford. At 16, I am happy that I am also the youngest F1 test driver in the world. Not everyone has a chance to drive a Formula One car, but at least now, there is a Malaysian youth being involved in motorsports and it is an impossible dream that has come true. It’s just unbelievable.

Lotus team prinicipal Tony Fernandes says you will now aim for the very top. How soon do you see this happening?

I don’t want to rush into things too quickly and I know the time will come for me to get into a Formula One car in the future. I will take one step at a time and I will do it properly. What’s important now is just to concentrate on my upcoming races in Formula BMW and probably try and gain as much as experience along the way, as this year’s only going be my learning curve.

Do you think maybe you can make your Formula One debut before turning 19, which would then make you the youngest Formula One driver?

I really hope so. But, as I said before, I don’t want to rush into things too quickly as it will disrupt my learning process in cars. I rather be in Formula One when I’m really ready. The AirAsia ASEAN Driver Development programme is meant to accelerate the growth of motorsports in this region. So with this programme, it will help me a lot along the way towards reaching Formula One.

How much of sacrifice is involved?

Definitely, a lot! At 16, being a student, a racer and as a National Youth icon, I have to limit myself to be with my friends. I also need to stay fit at all times. These days, drivers who I compete with have raised the level of competition and it makes it tougher for drivers to win the championship.

Who’s your source of inspiration and who is your idol in F1?

I’m very thankful for being blessed with a very supportive and understanding family. This applies when my whole family which includes my dad, mom, grandparents and siblings would come for my races and support me throughout.

What is your daily schedule and how many hours do you train?

I usually wake up early for a morning jog and then I’ll go straight to school. In the evening I’ll have a session in the gym with my personal trainer and then towards late evening I’ll have extra classes.

Which has been your memorable race so far?

It’s in Sharm Al Sheikh, the Rotax Max World Finals last year, where I finished sixth in the world.

What else do you love doing other than being on the track?

Football and hanging out with friends.

Has racing affected you academic pursuit?

So far, everything’s been good. It is tough balancing both academic and sports, but that’s the challenge, I guess.


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