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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Thani Al Qemzi eyes historic title win after Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix triumph

After becoming first Arab driver to clinch capital race, Al Qemzi focusing on being first Emirati to be crowned world champion

Thani Al Qemzi of Team Abu Dhabi became the first Arab driver to win the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi in the capital's Breakwater on Saturday. Vittorio Ubertone
Thani Al Qemzi of Team Abu Dhabi became the first Arab driver to win the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi in the capital's Breakwater on Saturday. Vittorio Ubertone

Thani Al Qemzi produced a masterclass at the capital's Breakwater on Saturday to become the first Arab driver to win the UIM Formula 1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi.

It took nearly 18 years for the Emirati Al Qemzi to realise his long-cherished dream at a venue where it all started for him: he made his world race series debut here in December 2000.

“When I first started on this journey, I had two goals,” the Team Abu Dhabi racer said. “I have achieved the first and have another to fulfil - the world title - and this will be my best chance ever after trying for more than 17 years."

Taking a moment to look back at his F1 career, Al Qemzi said it had been a long and difficult journey.

"A lot of frustrations and disappointments in my career," he said. "But today, Alhamdulillah, I have realised one of my dreams."

Starting third on the grid, Al Qemzi stormed to the front by pipping teammate Erik Stark and Emirates Racing’s Marit Stromoy, who had started first and second respectively on the grid.

Stark and Stromoy were both eventually forced out of the race due to engine failures.

Peter Morin of CTIC F1 Shenzhen China stayed on Al Qemzi’s tail tight from the start before finishing second. Sami Selio of Mad-Croc Baba Racing moved to third following Stromoy’s retirement towards the end of the race.

“I made a good start. I went far away from everyone and I keep a little bit away,” Al Qemzi said. “I kept my line. My boat was strong. I felt relaxed and I pushed hard from the start.

"The last five laps, I see that he staying behind me and then I went fast again."

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Victory has taken Al Qemzi to second in the overall standings. His tally for the season is 74 points - just three adrift of teammate Shaun Torrente, who finished sixth in the race. Stark (65) has dropped one place to third in the leaderboard.

“Insha Allah, next week I do the same," Al Qemzi said. "This is my country. I have always been nervous here and never had any favours. now I made it.

"This is a fantastic win for the whole team. We are all so happy.”

He should be. Al Qemzi, whose his last win came in Sharjah six years ago, had succeeded in Abu Dhabi in his 30th attempt.

If he can replicate Saturday's win, he can become the first Emirati to be crowned world champion. The closest he came to winning it was in 2009, when he finished behind current Team Abu Dhabi manager Guido Cappellini.

History beckons.