Rashid al Dhaheri is a little kid who is making a big impact on the local karting scene, with the goal of making all the way to Formula 1 and he is only five years old.
On April 8, 2014 young Dhaheri will turn six, yet on track he is beating older rivals and causing quite a stir on the local scene under the protective guidance of his father Ali Al Dhaheri.
The late great Ayrton Senna once said that "racing is in my blood" and the same can be said of diminutive Rashid who is also a huge fan of Fernando Alonso, using a replica race suit of Spain’s two time world champion when he is out on track.
In fact it all started in 2011, at the age of three, when Rashid made his first visit to the Ferrari pit box during the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.
He was enthusiastically standing in front of the Ferrari garage for hours mesmerised by the work going on, the sound of the engines and the pit stop practices.
This was noticed by the Ferrari crew who took Rashid inside their pit box where he got to meet Alonso, and from that moment on Rashid knew what his future should be. Since that day he has not missed a grand prix in his home city.
The bug had bitten and after his first visit to the inner sanctum of Ferrari, it was all the youngster could talk about and at such a young age he told his parents that he wanted to race – to become for the UAE a world champion like Alonso is for Spain.
This set in motion a series of contacts and developments which resulted in Rashid travelling to Italy, in January 2013, where he undertook an intensive training programme in junior karting.
This in turn led to his first race on October 4, 2013 at Al Ain Raceway at the opening round of the 2013-14 UAE Rotax Max Challenge Series where the cream of the country's karting gathered.
Karting is the natural first step in the ladder to Formula 1 or any career in motorsport for that matter. Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Kimi raikkonen and of course Alonso and every driver on the F1 grid starts off karting - many of them having started to race karts at around same age as Rashid.
It is noteworthy that although karting for kids four to five years of age is common abroad, and even among expat kids living in the UAE, this is a unique situation for an Emirati.
Traditionally UAE youngsters tend to start racing in their early teens, thus Rashid is blazing a brand new trail in his homeland and is by far the youngest new kid on the block.
The 2013-2014 UAE karting season started in October with Rashid on the Bambino grid, among other five to eight year olds who contest the series.
To say that Rashid is making good progress is an understatement as he recently scored two dominant wins at Dubai Kartdrome in January, the occasion of his first anniversary as a kart racing driver. He smashed the Kartdrome lap record in the process.
For the remainder of the season Rashid will compete in the Bambino class, while continuing with his training and development programme.
Further international training in Italy is being planned with the view to participating in selected European kart series for his age group.
As for the long term future, Rashid's father Ali explained, "Given his young age, we are currently looking at Rashid’s development in terms of graduating through the different karting age group classes here in the UAE and overseas.
"However, in the long term, Rashid has a very focused objective which he is passionate and highly motivated to achieve. Some kids want to become policemen, or fire fighters, but Rashid is adamant he wants to become 'a Formula 1 driver, drive for Ferrari and win races for the UAE' and often he quite blatantly says 'I want to be the next Fernando Alonso' and with that attitude there is no stopping him," he said.
Rashid is coached by Paul Chatenay who is well known within UAE karting community as a highly experienced international driver.
Paul has represented UAE four times in a row at the SWS World Finals. Last year, he was vice world champion in the SWS series, thus has the required skills and experience to teach and transfer knowledge to Rashid.
Chatenay has developed a challenging and active programme to oversee all aspects of Rashid’s development as a driver here in the UAE. While helping him build the technical and physical attributes necessary to be successful in such a demanding sport.
When asked for feedback on Rashid, Chatenay's face lights up, he talks of his young protege with great enthusiasm.
He said: "What makes Rashid special is how he listens to what you teach him, and then without hesitation adapts what he has been taught immediately on track. This is remarkable considering his age. I have seldom seen a kid progress so rapidly in karting from never driving to top step of the podium in one year is a great achievement. I believe he is the real deal and along with his family support he can go a long way in motor racing."
While most kids are fussing over their Playstations or parked in front of a TV on weekends Rashid is training hard. Before race events he goes for regular afternoon training sessions and will spend all day at the track working on different aspects of his driving under the guidance of Chatenay, who coaches him on how to improve his race lines and driving techniques.
After the session, they always have a debriefing session to address issues that arise during the training. The objective is to ensure that Little Alonso is optimally prepared for his next race.
Kids with talent in any sport they choose need sponsorship or a benefactor to ensure they have the best of the best at their disposal, in motor racing this financial backing is a vital element of a young driver's progress.
If motor sport is to grow and flourish in the UAE the sport needs to have local heroes as champions. For that to happen there must be support for young Emiratis.
By backing Rashid these benefactors or companies will be playing an active role nurturing and developing a talented and hugely dedicated young Emirati, who quite clearly has great potential, to make it in an expensive sport.
Being associated with such a young role model and an individual who will be raising the flag for the UAE across the world can only bring positive benefits and exposure to any company who has the vision to invest in Rashid.
Meanwhile Rashid's father Ali continues to back his son and make sure he has the best grooming possible in the sport he has chosen, and he says without any expectation.
"We very much welcome the opportunity to discuss potential sponsorship for Rashid with any company who may be interested," he said.
So look out for the tiny fellow, with the huge grin and big heart wearing the bright red Alonso replica race suit, and take note of that name Rashid Al Dhaheri.
Don't be surprised, in a couple of decades, to see his name emblazoned on the side of a F1 Ferrari, on the grid at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
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