ABU DHABI // Moza Lootah looked along the length of the 20-metre race track, hoping her team could win and represent her country in Singapore in September. Fifteen-year-old Miss Lootah, an Emirati, was one of dozens of teenagers from 11 schools across the country who were pitted against each other yesterday in the F1 in Schools competition at the Yas Marina race track.
Her team, the Scarlet Rampage, from the Greenwood International School in Dubai, was special, however: it was the only all-female team in the competition. Like the others contestants, the girls had spent hours of free time every week after school perfecting their entries. They created their 10cm-long car , powered by a gas canister, with the help of a computer-aided design programme and tested it in a virtual wind tunnel to achieve the proper aerodynamics.
Once they settled on a design, the car was machine-carved from a block of wood and entered into a drag race, where it was expected to reach speeds of up to 60km an hour. "We really liked working on the design and getting it right," said Miss Khadri. "We like to compete with the guys and show we are good at this, too." Each team member in the competition had his or her own role that reflected those in an actual F1 team, including team manager, resource manager and manufacturing engineer.
The final race was just part of the challenge; judges also evaluated business models, as the teams had to attract and sign sponsorship and manage their research and manufacturing budgets. In addition, the young competitors had to make a promotional stand, which served as a publicity point for their car and team, and give a presentation, during which they answered questions about their entries. The AM Rockets, from Al Mutanabi Secondary School in Abu Dhabi, went all out to catch the judges' attention in the presentation section.
"Last year we won the fastest car, but it was not enough," said the AM Rockets' team captain, Omar Amer, 17, who is from Egypt. This year, the team again had the fastest car, completing the track in just 1.25 seconds, but they came with something extra: as they delivered their presentation, a model helicopter flew across the stage, adding some excitement to the event. Even that, though, was not enough to take top prize. "We improved on the aerodynamics and the weight," said a frustrated Mr Amer, who has been building model aeroplanes for several years. "I have an interest in aerodynamics and I know what it takes to make the car faster."
The laurels - and the chance to compete in Singapore - went instead to Impulse Dubai College. The team captain Dominic Palubiski, 16, was thrilled. "It's brilliant news," he said after the results were announced. "We worked so hard for this and now there is more work to do." His car took only 1.4 seconds to travel the 20-metre track. That was slightly slower that the AM Rockets' entry, but the rest of the team's presentation pushed them into first place. However, Mr Palubiski said 1.4 seconds might not be fast enough for Singapore.
"We need to make it faster," he said. "There is still a lot to do, and we have to work on the weight. "The car is about 25 grams too heavy, so we have to find ways to shave that off." The runners-up, 540 Yea from the Indian High School in Dubai, will be teaming up with a school in Brisbane, Australia, to compete in Singapore. Ms Lootah, meanwhile, will have to wait for another chance to beat the boys at their own game.
"This is practice for next year," she said. "By then, we hope to have everything perfect." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org