x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Teen life: getting involved with F1

Efforts to get involved with F1 at school have yet to make pole position.

I'm still debating whether to watch any races at Yas Marina Circuit next month. I've never sat in front of the TV enthralled by a load of men driving funny shaped cars around, but I know plenty who have.

At school, next month's grand prix is a topic very eagerly discussed by some people, and judging by their enthusiasm, you'd think they'd been given Dh1,000 shopping vouchers at the Mall of the Emirates. The celebrity line-up seems to make it well worth going, though. I try not to get involved with too many things where the words "fast" and "car" are used frequently, but this is mostly because of my tendency to feel car sick at inappropriate times.

Now, however, since signing up for the F1 in Schools competition, fast cars have become a significant part of my life. It began at an "Activity Bazaar" a few weeks ago, where everyone ran about anxiously adding their names to lists of various extra-curricular organisations. You do start to feel inadequate when you slowly scrawl your name on the list for "choir" and glance over to find out that the person next to you is in at least five sports teams, three ensembles, debating society and some other things you've never heard of. Driven by this slightly annoying revelation of your own incompetence when compared with your peers, you could be excused for hastily joining the first activity that you see that looks remotely doable. Which, in my case, was F1.

With little idea of what we were supposed to be doing, I sat through the first meeting. I didn't think they would let the likes of my fellow students get their hands on something as potentially dangerous as a real car. I had thought of it as a sort of kiddie car race, and seeing as I can bash about people relatively well in bumper cars, I was feeling fairly confident of success. Turned out we didn't need any of those sorts of talents after all, and it involved a lot more work. For one, it wasn't just restricted to my school, but was open to teenagers all over the world. We had to fashion a miniature car from a block of balsa wood, fit in motors and other bits and bobs, and find real sponsors to provide us with the money to buy equipment.

"Not that it matters," Mr Jones, the teacher in charge, shrugged, "But a team from our school has been winning the UAE championships every year, for the past three years." No pressure on us, then. To make us all feel a bit better, he kindly told us that we didn't win the world championships last year. That's a relief. All we won was the Best Sportsmen Award in the World Championships. Is making people feel infinitely inferior a skill teachers consciously practise and perfect over the years?

Forming teams of three, we set about the first step. Thinking up a name and logo for your team doesn't sound like a particularly challenging task, but it took all week. After some intense collaboration over Facebook, we formulated a logo. The collaboration mostly entailed us sending messages such as "We have to do this!" to which another person would reply "We can win!" Or "We should really think out a team name."

"How about Team Callum?" This excellent suggestion was, of course, put forward by Callum. Jack finally came up with the awe-inspiring title Death by Friction. We toddled off in search of Mr Jones one lunchtime and proudly presented our team name to him.

"And what significance does it have?" he smiled, peering at us with a delicately arched eyebrow. We hadn't bothered to think out something with any particular significance, but Jack managed well enough with "Um, friction is a physics term, and you need to know lots of physics to make an, um, aerodynamic car?" I would have thought the aerodynamic bit was fancy enough to convince him, but Mr Jones wanted to know what the "death" bit meant. "Well, if there's too much friction, your car dies? Because it catches fire?" I offered, which must have satisfied him because he let us go. That's the first step of F1 car-making done. If we can think about what particular significance our logo - a lopsided skull with flames coming out it - has, we might even have a fair chance of talking the judges into choosing our team for the national competition. And then perhaps I won't have to spend anything on getting a real F1 ticket to gain experience, or waste a day when I could be doing my nails.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai