Haridev Pushparaj –
Muscat: April 16 –
The first thing that strikes you about Shihab al Habsi when you meet him is his unassuming, disarming poise.
Poise, that one seldom sees in a 14-year-old but the young lad is full of it as you interact with him.
At 14, he is at an age that is brimming with possibilities and full of confidence to conquer the world, the racing world in his case.
After five years of producing eye-catching performances on the international karting circuit, Shihab is now in the highly competitive world of French Formula-4.
The composure this elegant young boy possesses can be seen from his awareness of the gargantuan task that lies ahead of him in the years to come.
Shihab spoke to Oman Daily Observer exclusively a day before he flew out to France to continue his racing season that began in the first week of April.
The abiding sentiment that permeated the conversation was the boy’s desire to wanting to make it. And by ‘making it’ he means wanting to create history for Oman and the region some day with his goal.
And when you ask him what that goal is, it is the pinnacle of motorsports where Shihab aims to reach: Formula One.
“My ultimate goal is to be the first driver from Oman to race in the Formula One. It is a long way to go and I need to keep working hard and I need the support of a lot of people for it to happen,’’ he added.
Shihab has been working really hard on his performances in the last five years and especially so after entering the French Formula-4 fray this February.
“I was in France, with Formula-4 racing. It has been difficult with so many champion drivers but I managed.’’
Shihab was speaking on the sidelines of the Oman Sports Conference 2018 and the young champion felt it was great to interact with so many people from the national and international sports fraternity.
The promising racer thanked his sponsors, the Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Oil, Zubair Corporation, Dhofar Automotive and the media for their support.
However, Shihab felt with a dream of a place in the Formula One grid someday, this support will have to get bigger and wider for him to sustain his level.
“Formula One is a very exclusive place with the top 20 riders in the world and they are there because of a lot of people who have supported them as well, so I would need that all the way to reach there,’’ he revealed.
Shihab spoke about the difficulties he faces while he and his father, Ahmed al Habsi, make plans and strategies.
The lad more often than not has to go straight to the race and compete unlike his other competitors, who take part in testing before the race.
This boils down to having the right kind of support and assistance and funding to facilitate Shihab’s testing schedule.
“You know what I do normally is I go straight to the race, like tomorrow. Without support, it is difficult but I try and manage,’’ he added.
Shihab revealed that he competes in 21 races in a year, most of them in Europe and more so in France, where he is based at The FFSA Academy.
“It enhances my skill levels tremendously that I compete with some of the best young drivers in Europe,’’ he explains.
Shihab focused on the weather factor when it came to his experience in Europe and emphasised on the importance of adapting to the conditions.
“See, here in Oman, we are not used to having rains. But in Europe, this is a major factor and getting used to the rainy conditions and racing is crucial. And of course, while competing with good drivers, it helps you become a better racer as well,’’ Shihab said.
Shihab says there is a balanced schedule at the FFSA Academy when it comes to racing, fitness and studies. The 14-year-old says all three go hand in hand and all the drivers are given a well-rounded training.
The only young racer from the whole of Asia who was chosen by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) in 2017 to be part of the FFSA Academy, Shihab feels honoured.
“You know how I got selected. The FIA were watching my performances for a long time, for two-three years and finally decided to select me. I got picked after I came fourth in the world championship (CIK-FIA World junior championship — OK Junior) last year,’’ he added.
Talking about his plans for the future, Shihab feels he will focus on learning this year and is not pushing hard so much on the results front.
“This year I want to focus on learning and learn how to adapt to various conditions in different venues. The rains, the dust and wind etc,’’ Shihab stated.
Shihab feels 2019 will be the year when he will concentrate on winning titles.
The young racer feels that while he competes with drivers in Europe, their awareness about Oman is not much, so he enlightens them about the Sultanate.
“I feel proud to educate them about Oman, since they don’t know much about the country. It is nice to do that as they could feel interested to visit Oman someday as tourists,’’ says Shihab.
The ambitious and driven racer looks up to multiple Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Haridev Pushparaj –