x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Emirati is steering his Grand Prix to victory

Saeed Al Mehairi will be keeping sponsors happy and making sure drivers get the right trophies at the Abu Grand Prix this weekend.

Saeed Al Mehairi. usually takes the seat of a racing car but during this weekend's Grand Prix he will be the official sponsorship officer and will also work organising the winners' podium. Duncan Chard for The National
Saeed Al Mehairi. usually takes the seat of a racing car but during this weekend's Grand Prix he will be the official sponsorship officer and will also work organising the winners' podium. Duncan Chard for The National

ABU DHABI // While the world's best drivers reach speeds of more than 300 kph next weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Saeed Al Mehairi will be racing around behind the scenes, making sure sponsors are happy and that the winners are presented with the right trophy on the podium.

The 24-year-old Emirati first took to the track five years ago when he raced a go-kart around Dubai Autodrome. "I knew it was in my blood," he said.

In 2008, he was one of three chosen from 700 drivers at the HSBC Racing Academy to represent the UAE in a Formula Renault Academy, which is regarded as one of the most important steps to a career in motorsport and to Formula One.

Paul Velasco of the Dubai Autodrome said he did exceptionally well. "Al Mehairi got all that grooming in those eight races in France. He got to race on some of the best tracks against the best. He is one of the most established Emirati drivers. He is the real Emirati talent. It was the biggest university for them."

From today, Al Mehairi will be at Yas Marina Circuit, cutting short his Eid celebrations to make sure all the sponsors get what they pay for.

He will ensure that the National Bank of Abu Dhabi's ATMs are properly installed and that the Etihad stand is correctly constructed in a timely fashion.

"I am the final point of contact for the sponsors and for anything they want; they have to come to me," he said. In addition to the work in the build-up to the race, Mehairi has to make time for other tasks during the Formula One racing.

This is his first Grand Prix but not the first time he has assisted with the podium celebrations. "When I did it for the FIA GT1 everything came at the last minute. I have to make free time in-between for these last-minute things," he said.

As a driver, Al Mehairi's best result was fifth place (in France) - in the rain; an alien concept for anyone who grew up in the desert. "That's with one or two years' experience. Those I'm racing against have five to six years' racing experience and that was a good achievement for me," he said.

In 2009, due to the economic downturn, his sponsorships dried up and he stopped racing overseas. Instead, he continued his degree in business management at Al Ghurair University in Dubai.

"I went back to focus on studies, work and to do some local racing in go-karts and touring cars," he said. When Mr Al Mehairi started to race, motorsport was something new to the older generations of his family, and he had to explain the safety measures. "They thought I was racing on the street. I invited my family to the track and they saw everything; the roll cage, fire-retardant suit, helmet," he said.

By 2010, he had caught the attention of Yas Marina Circuit and became the youngest trainer at the racing school there, coaching up-and-coming drivers. Away from Yas, he represented the UAE in France in the Sodi W Series, a go-kart event. The UAE team won. "It was one of my biggest achievements," he said.

This year, everything has started to fall into place. Yas Marina Circuit offered him a full-time job in its sponsorship department. "This was a dream job. Doing something you like, and imagine you get paid for it," he said.

He is part of the Yas racing team and now commands a finely primed Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the UAE GT Championships. Paired with Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, he won the GTC class at the Dubai Motorsport Festival. "The team did a good job and gave us a very strong car. Conditions were tough but it is good to score a win here at Dubai Autodrome," Al Mehairi said.

Off the track, Al Mehairi said he was well aware of what could go wrong this weekend. "We've got to make sure the presenters are on time and who they are presenting to. You've got to make sure everything is on time, that they know the location and they have right passes to access. I enjoy it," he said.



More motorsport coverage, s14