Ulster’s link to Abu Dhabi bid for Formula One success
They have the money, they have the circuits including the splendid Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, and they have the ambition, but as yet the United Arab Emirates do not have the drivers to feature in Formula One.
But it is an issue that is being addressed with the help of the University of Ulster.
Last year Mohammed Ben Sulayem, FIA vice-president and head of the UAE motorsport authorities, flew in to Northern Ireland to sign an agreement with the university to provide specialised help in assessing and training up-and-coming drivers.
The first of them, Mohammed Al Dhaheri (pictured) and Mohammad Al Mutawaa, have already been attending the university’s Sports Institute at Jordanstown where they have been subjected to intensive physiological and psychological tests — all filmed for a Dubai TV documentary.
They were selected following a ‘Star Driver’ competition where the final choice was made by a judging panel which included multi-Middle East rally champion Ben Sulayem and Dr David Hassan from the university’s School of Sports Studies who played a major role in setting up the programme.
It is being co-ordinated by Ulsterman Stuart Murray who had been seconded to a three-month internship as part of his masters degree in sports management but now works full-time for the UAE automobile club.
Viewing through the windows of an acclimatisation chamber where Al Dhaheri (24) and Al Mutawaa (18) were suffering the agonies of treadmill and exercise bicycle assessment in 40 degree heat with 80% humidity, Murray explained: “The training here covers key areas such as nutrition, fitness, mental preparation, career management and media handling, all under the direction of the university’s team of sports scientists.
“Both drivers have entered into it with total commitment and enthusiasm and they have been amazed by what they have learned in terms of the importance of fitness, nutrition and mental alertness for drivers.”
Drained and exhausted after an hour in the chamber, they emerged for further heart rate, blood and urine tests.
“We are used to the heat but the humidity in the chamber is the problem,” said racer Al Mutawaa. “It is very draining and until now we never appreciated the importance of re-hydration. In Dubai we would drink maybe one bottle of water a day, even during races, but here we can see the difference it makes by replacing the fluids we have lost.
“In an hour long race in typical 40/50 degree heat I would be aware of my lap times dropping off towards the end and would assume it was just down to tyre wear. Here I can see that it has also to do with my body wearing out too!”
Those lessons, it seems, are not being learned by drivers here.
“I’m not aware of any local drivers making use of the facilities here. It is almost certainly a question of funding, but maybe awareness too,” said Dr Gareth Davidson who conducted the physiological and biochemical assessments.
“However, I think these UAE drivers would confirm it’s an important part of their development.”