Abbi Pulling, Aseel Al Hamad become first women to drive F1 car in Saudi Arabia
New Alpine Academy member Abbi Pulling had her first taste of F1 machinery last week in Riyadh, as she joined Aseel Al Hamad at the wheel of the E20 car in a history-making demo run.
Since motor racing landed on Saudi soil and big international events started to be hosted in the Kingdom, the sport has made headlines also for symbolic yet very significant initiatives in support of gender equality: female racing drivers became a powerful embodiment of women that can fight for their dreams, regardless of the field. In 2018 - just six months after a ban was lifted for women to drive on the roads - Formula E hosted a female test on the Diriyah street circuit. Two years later, on the same track, Reema Juffali became the first Saudi woman to compete professionally on home soil, as she entered the Jaguar IPace eTrophy round in support of the Formula E ePrix. When Formula 1 also landed for the first time in the country in 2021, Juffali was named official ambassador of the race and 4-time champion Sebastian Vettel organized a karting event for women only in the build-up to the race. The second ever edition of the Jeddah Grand Prix is about to get underway and BWT Alpine F1 Team was now protagonist of a beautiful initiative to further advance the sport's commitment to diversity and inclusion: last week, the French F1 team brought the 2012 E20 F1 machine to the streets of the Saudi capital Riyadh, with two women behind the wheel. Abbi Pulling, 19, is the Alpine F1 junior programme's latest signing: the W Series racer has in fact joined the Academy in an Affiliate Driver role and had her first taste of F1 machinery at the demo run - one day before her birthday. “I got my first experience of an F1 car last weekend and it was everything I was expecting, and more", she commented. "I started racing when I was just eight years old, always with the goal of reaching Formula 1, and I am so pleased to have got that little bit closer." For Saudi Automobile & Motorcycle Federation Board Member Aseel Al Hamad it wasn't a first time in the driving seat: the Saudi woman - a very active member of the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission and advocate for women in the sport - had already driven the same car at Paul Ricard in 2018, becoming the first Saudi driver to experience F1 machinery.
“It was beautiful to drive with BWT Alpine F1 Team once again, and even more special to do this in my country of Saudi Arabia and my home city of Riyadh" - she said. "I hope this inspires more generations to fall in love with Formula 1 and for more women to consider motorsport as a future career." The demonstration run was supported by the Saudi Tourism Authority and represented the first appearance of an F1 car in the country's capital Riyadh. Pulling and Al Hamad, though, wrote more history - as they became the first women to drive a F1 car in Saudi. As a Board Member of the National Federation, Aseel Al Hamad is leading the development of strategies and policies to promote the education and training of women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia. "I was super happy to meet Abbi, a lovely girl with lots of ambition, and an amazing passion for racing" - Al Hamad continued. "She shows that with enough drive, girls can become professional racing drivers. It is important that we showcase examples to demonstrate to the younger generation that it can be them in the future; it doesn’t matter your gender; you need to show your talent. I will be cheering for them and opening the doors and hopefully we will see them on podiums in the near future.” Pulling competed in British F4 in 2020 and 2021, while also making her debut in the all-female championship W Series mid-way through the season in a reserve driver role. Despite contesting only a handful of races, she scored a pole position and stepped on the podium, qualifying for a race seat in 2022. In May, she will start her first full campaign in W Series. As the first ever female member of the Alpine F1 Team's driver academy, Pulling will also be involved in the team's promotional activities and will receive support in fields such as media training, nutrition and psychology. "It is very important for the industry to encourage and support young, female talents to achieve their ambitions" - she said. "Programmes like the Alpine Academy coupled with demonstration runs with female racers show you have the opportunity and structure to do this." "It was a pleasure to meet Aseel and to hear about all her initiatives to support young racers. It’s super encouraging for myself and the next generation.” “The statement of having two women driving an F1 car through the capital of Saudi Arabia, past treasured historic monuments and into the heart of the city, shows that anyone with enough drive can follow their dreams in motorsport." - echoed Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine. "Aseel shows that women of all backgrounds are welcome, while Abbi demonstrates motorsport is a genuine career path for women. While we might still be far-off an effective equality in many areas of society - everywhere in the world - symbolic initiatives like these can make a difference and will hopefully inspire a younger generation of women to pursue their dreams.