All eyes are on Abu Dhabi this month for the Grand Prix, which you helped launch in 2009. How tough is the circuit?
With one of the longest straights in F1 and a number of tight corners, Yas Marina is a real challenge for the drivers. The engineers also have a really tough job setting up the cars because of the heat.
Who do you think will win it this year?
Hamilton has a big lead, which will be difficult to pull back, but not impossible. I hope the Championship goes down to the last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.
You won 14 FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles. How did you do it?
I treated every win as a challenge, never allowing myself to believe I had mastered the skill. I was driven to improve every day and at every event. I’ve been badly injured a few times as well, but I learnt that the power of the mind always gets you through, and that a human body can cope with a lot of pain. Teamwork is also essential for rallying; you have to work as one with your co-driver and with the team.
What’s your proudest driving moment?
In 1998 I finished a rally with a broken neck – and won it. A few weeks later I started another FIA Middle East Rally Championship round in a cast, despite my doctor’s strong warning that I risked being paralysed.
Do you think you would still be fast in a 2018 rally car?
Having the right car is important, but you can’t underestimate the preparation and the driver’s mental and physical state. A competing athlete has a daily routine to help reach his goals. Since my retirement from rallying I use a different skill set, but I know I would still be fast, and I know I would enjoy it.
Tell us about your role these days?
I have been re-elected as an FIA Vice-President for Sport for a second term and I am a member of the World Motor Sport Council, the FIA’s most powerful body. Since 2005 I’ve been heading the national motorsport governing body, the Automobile & Touring Club of United Arab Emirates, which is also the sporting organiser of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I also oversee the development of motorsport across Middle East and North Africa region.
Which Middle Eastern drivers should we look out for, then?
There is so much talent. Saudi Arabia is growing very fast, and Aseel Al-Hamad is quickly becoming an ambassador for motorsport in the region and in particularly for women in motorsport. In the UAE, I’m pleased to see the progress of Amna Al Qubaisi, who came through the GCC Young Drivers Academy which we launched last year, and who has been competing in F4.
What does the future hold for F1?
Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and the technology is the future with many exciting new possibilities. Safety development is key and this is being developed at an incredible rate. Fan interaction is crucial for the younger generation, and I look forward to the initiatives being brought into the Championship next year.