I've just witnessed Zaamin Jaffer, a 22-year-old Indian driver, snatch victory on the last lap of the third round of Formula Gulf 1000. We're at Dubai's famed Autodrome for the Motorsport Festival, the sun is hot and Jaffer has just caused hundreds of jaws to hit the floor. He's already got tongues wagging by getting pole position after the morning's qualifying session, narrowly beating Malaysian Natasha Seatter by just three tenths of a second. And to lose the pace at the start of the actual race to Seatter, only to claw it back on the last lap, no wonder he's been touted as a future star for the UAE racing scene.
So surely, a young man with a wealth of driving talent that could end up with him joining the likes of Button and Vettel on the starting grid in Formula One some day, likes to get his kicks in a flash supercar when he's not on track? Errm, no. Jaffer actually drives a two-year-old Honda Jazz. And do you know something? That makes us like him even more than we already did.
"It's actually my auntie's car," he offers by way of an explanation, "and I just have the use of it while I'm in Dubai. Officially, it's shared around the family but no one else seems to use it, so it's come to be my car." But doesn't the rather sedate pace of the Jazz, as capable as it undoubtedly is in the role of urban transportation, cause him some frustration?
"No, not at all, it's not that bad" says Jaffer. "It has a manual gearbox, which is quite unusual out here, and I find it to be really nippy and, best of all, it's very easy to park. It's great for somewhere like Dubai."
Jaffer is someone it's easy to warm to. Unlike so many in motorsport, he's worked his way through the ranks because of sheer determination and skill, rather than falling upon the comfortable cushion of enormous family wealth. Being in this game is a costly business and he's had more than his fair share of knock-backs while trying to find sponsors, but a private benefactor came to the rescue and he's also being supported by Dubai-based Active PR, a communications and marketing company. It's their logos that adorn the car he's just won the race in.
Born and raised in Mumbai, he's an only child and his father passed away when Jaffer was just seven. When he was 14, his mother, Zakera, made the move to Dubai where she continues to run her own interior design business. "I travel a lot with my studies [he recently studied at Cardiff University] and with my racing, so I'm not in Dubai all that often. In fact, I've only spent four weeks here this year, but it's still the place I call home," he says.
Apart from this inaugural stint in Formula Gulf 1000, Jaffer has competed in Formula Ford and Formula Renault in the UK and he hasn't always driven sensible family cars on the roads. "I owned a Renault Clio Sport but ended up selling it as I wasn't using it enough and, when I was in the UK, I also had a 1.6 Golf and a BMW 1 Series." He still has a flat in the UK, in Milton Keynes. "It's nice and central, which is handy as I once racked up 35,000 miles [56,327km] in one year there."
Does he see a time when he can hand back the keys for the Jazz because there's something a bit more exciting on the drive? "Maybe one day," he smiles, "but, for me, a Golf GTI would be ideal." A racing driver with his feet still firmly on the ground? That's Zaamin Jaffer for you.