This spring, Jaguar celebrated the end of Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers by declaring June 24 as World Driving Day. Saudi car enthusiast Aseel Al Hamad took the wheel of a Jaguar F-Type Coupe and circled the Reem International Circuit in Riyadh, becoming the first woman to drive on a track in Saudi Arabia. We talked to her about the changes in the culture of both Saudi Arabia and the motorsports world.
Automobile Magazine: You said you’ve loved cars since you were young. Is this unusual for women in Saudi Arabia?
Aseel Al Hamad: You know when you go to the shopping mall and there’s a makeup stand—you wouldn’t stop there, right? Because it’s not your interest. Women here [have been] distant from cars and motorsports because they couldn’t participate. Buying cars or driving cars was not really an option for them. But there are women who share my passion, friends and cousins who enjoy driving when they travel. I consider myself one small story from many thousands of beautiful stories.
AM: How did your family and friends react to your interest in cars and your active role in the women’s driving movement?
AAH: I’m lucky and blessed to have an amazing family who were always supportive of me. Moreover, society and the motorsports community were always supportive.
AM: How is the women’s driving movement viewed in Saudi Arabia? As a good thing? As a strange thing?
AAH: Everyone’s very happy about it. We’re getting great support from the authorities, our fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters, everyone. Everyone is happy. This is going to give the feeling of independence and mobility for women, which will give them more opportunities for work. It’s going to lead to success in business, which will positively impact the economy of Saudi Arabia. It’s time for women to show their potential and capabilities. It’s a very exciting time. It’s full of opportunities and challenges, and I’m very happy and honored to be part of this amazing period.
AM: It’s hard for us to imagine this here in the States because women have been driving as long as men.
AAH: People have forgotten the joy of driving. This is why I want to thank Jaguar, who commemorated my first experience driving on a track in my home country by announcing World Driving Day to remind people what it’s like to feel the joy of driving. People have forgotten this aspect. They’re busy with their work; they live in a very busy city and complain about the traffic. They forgot this beautiful joy. Teenagers understand this when they receive their new driving license. Driving is beautiful. Driving is fun. It’s nice that they launched this initiative to ask people around the world to share their joyful driving moments.
AM: This is making me think about the first day I had my driver’s license.
AAH: Yes! You remember now! I’ve been driving all around the world, driving on different tracks around the world. But to experience driving in my country is a beautiful feeling. It’s like my first time driving again!
AM: You drove the Jaguar F-Type Coupe, correct?
AAH: Correct, and I was so happy to drive the F-Type on the track. It’s an amazing sports car that reflects my passion. Jaguar hasn’t just documented my special moment of driving in my home country, but they have shared my joy with the whole world.
AM: Female racing drivers are very uncommon. Do you think that’s due to a lack of interest? A lack of opportunity?
AAH: It’s true, women’s participation in motorsports is way less than men’s. There’s a commission at the FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile] called the Women in Motorsport Commission, led by Michèle Mouton, a champion rally driver from France. I’m representing Saudi Arabia in the commission. They are doing lots of good programs for young girls, in America, in Europe, and all around the world. We are trying to encourage them to participate not just as drivers but in all positions, like mechanical engineers, team managers, marshals, anything in the motorsport industry.
AM: Do you think there’s a lot of interest among women in motorsports?
AAH: Yes! This year the FIA launched a program called Girls on Track. They are reaching girls in their schools to experience kart racing. The champions from each region will compete in a final race. You see all kinds of reactions. Some girls, they love it, and they can train and do more. This is a beautiful initiative from the FIA. It sends a message that motorsports is not a gender-based sport. Women can compete with men. They are equally capable.