Emirati race driver Amna Al Qubaisi on her awe-inspiring journey on the track
She’s been pushed out of races, bullied, made fun of, belittled for daring to dream of leaving her mark on a testosterone-ridden track populated by male drivers.
But as 21-year-old Emirati racer Amna Al Qubaisi says, it was only when she stopped in her tracks and became more aggressive that the same men who had underestimated her because of her gender realised here was a woman who despite her young age and slight physique could actually race the best of them.
The daughter of UAE motorsport icon Khaled Al Qubaisi, the first Emirati to compete at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, it is often said that racing is in her genes.
But the sheer discipline and fortitude, not to mention talent and the commitment as well as the ability to push herself out of her comfort zone to get into a male-dominated field is something that has held Amna in good stead.
She is the first Emirati to take part in a Formula E test session after the Ad Diriyah ePrix in Saudi Arabia. She is also the first woman to win the GCC Drivers Academy competition in 2017 and also counts the 2018 Italian F4 Championship with Prema in her kitty.
She went on to claim victory in the first Formula 4 UAE race in 2019. All these accomplishments mean she is well on course to make an imminent appearance on Europe’s prestigious F3 circuit.
But none of this is in evidence when we catch up with Amna at the What She Said event, a platform for bold and inspirational women to share their stories and inspire others, at the W Hotel in Abu Dhabi recently.
She was part of a panel of Arab women at the global speaker series that proudly proclaims the ‘Future is Female’. It included Emirati pilot Salma Al Baloushi and fashion influencer Rania Hammad, an advocate for body positivity following a life-altering accident. Amna might have been the youngest achiever in the room, but one nevertheless making an equally loud statement in a society that has grown accustomed to lauding women achievers.
She is utterly serene and composed in an elegant black Abaya encrusted with mini crystals and beads (which she confesses is borrowed from her stylish mother’s wardrobe), an oasis of calm in a sea of animated faces.
It’s hard to imagine this 21-year-old in overalls striding her way to the racing track and strapping herself into her car and revving up the engine to compete with the best in an industry, where men are used to muscling their way into the fast lane.
But a quick look at her real time accolades as well as her Instagram page where she boasts over 38k followers with the grid overflowing with images of her on the racetrack is enough to tell us this is no ordinary girl and this is no ordinary journey she has embarked on.
Excerpts from a conversation with an utterly inspirational young woman, who wears her success with such modesty and humility, it is a lesson for many of us on how to handle the highs of life.
How important is it for youngsters to have the right role model from a young age?
Having parents as role models is very important as they pave the way for you and make it easier for you to reach your goal. I was into gymnastics, and I used to look up to Shawn Johnson, the Olympian gymnastics world champion a lot. But once I saw my father racing he was just so amazing and he was the best of the best… He was my biggest inspiration, he really helped me a lot and then my sister joined and now she is also my inspiration, she is doing amazing.
The motor racing world is a highly competitive one. Added to that there is the pressure of social media too. How do you safeguard your mental health in between all this?
Usually when people would talk on social media it would always get to my head and I would always be upset. And I’d take it out on the tracks. I would try to push through my limit and start making mistakes and stop listening to my engineers. So I started to recently erase my social media on race weekends, and I would be more focused. I would have my sister around and that’s what kind of helped me; I have improved a lot I feel, to become more calm.
You come across as very calm and serene but are a totally different person on the track. How do you maintain that balance?
I had to work on myself a lot. When I was on track I had a lot of anger issues. When an incident happens I would go and scream at the driver, I would try to pull up hands to fight; I would scream at my engineer as well. But then I started to calm down. I was like, if I continue this, it would affect me outside of racing, so I started to become more calm. If I became mad I would sit in my car alone, I would not let anyone interact with me and I would just be on my own and then I’d come back and start talking (to others). I had to coach myself to reach this level of calmness.
On the occasion of Emirati Women’s Day what message do you have for young girls hoping to emulate your success?
My message is to keep on persisting, and do what you love. If it makes you happy, it shouldn’t really matter what other people are saying or what others think about what you are doing. Just persist in what you do, what you love doing the most.
With 2021 being designated the Year of the 50th, what message would you give your future self, considering you are only 21 now.
50 years from now I’d tell myself to believe in myself. To not look for validation from anyone, to always validate yourself, and don’t forget about the good things you have done in the past and not to focus on the negative things.
How has being in a highly pressured job changed your perception towards life off field?
I started to meet my deadlines actually. I’ve always been on time, sometimes even earlier... I’d always try to finish things off, because in racing you know we always have timetables — at 9am you need to be at the track, 9:30 you need to talk to your engineers; that schedule started to implant in me, so whenever I have something to do, I plan my day out like that exactly. So, racing made me more organised!
At 21 you are an inspiration not just for the community around you but for a global audience. What are the drawbacks to being a celebrity at such a young age and how do you tackle that?
Honestly I feel it spreads awareness, it spreads positivity. I wouldn’t say I want to inspire… I’d like to give (people) hope that we can do things. But the negative thing is that I can’t do things like normal teenagers can do, that’s really difficult for me. I am trying to enjoy my life a bit, without posting it on social media, to live my life as a normal 21-year-old.