Former F1 star urges young hopeful to Emirati students to seize opportunities.
Past master David Coulthard offers sporting advice
"If you look at the number of cars out there on the roads and the exotic cars, there's clearly a passion for driving." This is the observation of F1 legend David Coulthard after spending time in Abu Dhabi earlier this month. "Drag racing is also very popular here so they have the concept of powerful acceleration. I think the more facilities are created for the youngsters to get out around the track, the more motorsport will develop."
But even though the motorsport dream for young men and women inevitably tends to centre on becoming an F1 driver, Coulthard made it clear there are plenty of other career options for young Emiratis. When David Coulthard spoke to Abu Dhabi students about careers in motorsport, his presence left many of the male students too star-struck to speak. Instead, it was the young women from colleges and universities across the capital, who grilled the now retired racer about his 15-year F1 career.
Coulthard faced more than 300 students at the Zayed University auditorium for Mastering Motorsports, a series of open talks held earlier this month and aimed at educating students about career opportunities in motorsport - both on and off the track. He says that seminars to engage students with motorsport were not common in his native Britain and he was impressed with the organisation of Mastering Motorsports for Emirati students.
"I've been asked to go to various talks and groups but never to students like this, which is a surprise considering in Britain there is such a history of success with motorsport. "There is clearly a lot of confidence among the students and there is an understanding of what an amazing opportunity they've got with all the developments they've had in the region. I wish I'd had the same opportunities when I was growing up," said Coulthard, who spoke of how motorsport had given him opportunities that life in the small Scottish village where he grew up could never have offered.
"Racing took me out of the village and around the world. On that journey I've met so many incredible people. The world has so much to offer." He urged students to seize the chance to travel and explore other cultures. "Even if it confirms to you that where you live is best, it's great to get that opportunity. Unlike my village, living in this region you've had so much change and development; amazing structures and opportunities for the future."
The event also included talks and presentations from a panel of leading lights from the world of Formula One who spoke about the opportunities available in a multibillion dollar industry that creates jobs in engineering, technology, media and journalism, business and recruitment. Coulthard was joined by British television presenter Louise Goodman, whose race day interviews are watched by millions of viewers each week. She gave students an insight into life as a reporter.
"In F1, the opportunities for interviews are quite regimented, so make sure you grab each one that presents itself because F1 accommodate the media on their own terms," she said. Media student Afra Al Mehairi, 21, from Abu Dhabi Women's College, says these kind of real-life practical insights are helpful when you are deciding on which career to follow. "Louise gave us some really good information about media and what it is like to do her job."
Anther popular speaker was F1 test driver Marc Gene, who told students about how a race track like the Yas Marina Circuit could transform potential for work in Abu Dhabi, but he was careful to point out that the mere presence of a track won't guarantee opportunities, especially for those with ambitions of racing for a living. "Many people know Abu Dhabi because of the race track and it is a great platform, but you can't expect a transformation overnight. In Barcelona, it took 10 years, but now we have three Spanish drivers in F1. Without the track, they would not have made it. Abu Dhabi has managed to do the most difficult thing, which is to have a grand prix, and everything else is easier to put in place. There might be 10 or 15 talented drivers in the UAE and one will make it."
One of the speakers with a vested interest in ensuring the students comprise the UAE's next generation of motorsports champions, on and off the track, was Don Sankey, who runs the F1 in Schools initiative, an extra-curricular competition to build a model race car. "Having the F1 will help us hugely in getting more students to take part in a national event on the back of the grand prix," says Sankey of the F1 In Schools programme for the UAE.
"The problem here is we have a multibillion dollar, state of the art facility (the F1 In Schools UAE headquarters in Dubai) and students in schools 15 minutes from it who, unless we tell them that F1 can be relevant to them, may never visit it." Shaima Al Maisari, 22, who studies applied media at the Zayed College of Technology, was keen to find out more about F1 following a college project last year.
"I came here knowing a little about F1 already; I'm still not sure what my career choice is going to be, but this was the first chance to get so much information about motorsport. It was also the first time for us as UAE Nationals to meet someone like David and speak to him," she said.