Due to time constraints, our interview with teenage British racing sensation Enaam Ahmed took place while he drove through London on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to another appointment.
Driving while being interviewed by Sportsmail was more difficult and stressful than any F3 race, claimed the 18-year-old. Considering the ease with which Ahmed won the British series, you could believe him.
Ahmed, born and raised in Edgware Road, has an astonishing list of achievements. He became the youngest ever British F3 champion in 2017, aged 17.
Enaam Ahmed, 18, dominated the British F3 championship. Now he is eyeing Europe
The Carlin driver dominated the 2017 campaign, picking up 13 wins, 18 podiums, 13 fastest laps and eight pole positions in just 24 races, wrapping up the title with three races to spare. He accrued the most points (654) and biggest winning margin (164) in British F3 history.
Before that, he was the youngest driver ever to win both World and European junior karting championships in same year, surpassing triple F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton by a year.
Now he is stepping up to European F3 to compete in the 2018 season with Hitech, starting in France on May 12. European F3 is considered a major proving ground on the road to F1.
Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll have all graduated following successful campaigns in recent years, while world champions including the likes of Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna all had a background in F3. None of which seems to be fazing Ahmed.
Ahmed smashed British F3 after being the youngest karting champ – beating Hamilton’s record
‘I don’t feel any extra pressure,’ he says. ‘I’m an underdog driver with an underdog team. No-one is expecting anything, so that gives me extra confidence because if we come out with anything that will be surprising, and I like surprising people.
‘The first race in Pau, I’ve never done a street circuit so I don’t know how that is going to be.
‘It’s a huge step up. British F3 is a good competition but it is nowhere near the level of Europe. Its arguable European F3 is one of the hardest youth categories you can do, especially this year – every team has three or four exceptionally good drivers.
‘In the last practice session we did in official testing, I was seventh but less than a tenth of a second off the fastest lap time. In Britain if I wasn’t driving perfectly I might still be on pole – but in European F3, if I’m not 100 per cent committed to the car on every corner, I could be in P15, easily.’
What would be a good season? ‘I really don’t know how I am going to do, but I’d be happy to be top rookie. Maybe top eight, top five, that would be pretty good. I’ll take it race by race’.
Not only is Ahmed unusual in his immense racing success at a young age, but also in his background. There has never been a British-Asian F1 driver and Hamilton has previously criticised the sport for a lack of diversity.
Ahmed, who has Pakistani heritage, isn’t thinking about any of that. Rather humbly, given the records listed above, he says he cannot be considered a mould-breaker until he has reached the top – although he does think that British racing has a huge, untapped pool of talent waiting in the Asian community.
Ahmed, of Pakistani descent, says there is a huge, untapped pool of British-Asian talent
He said: ‘At the start in karting it was quite diverse, there were a few Asian drivers I knew, but they never made the cut, I was the only one who carried on racing. I’m sure it will be coming, racing is becoming more and more diverse.
‘There are a lot of people who will not be aware they have this talent as they never had a chance to try the sport. There might be some guy in London who is the greatest F1 driver who ever lived who we never see as he didn’t know he had the talent. I was lucky, I stumbled on racing by accident.
‘I can only be a trailblazer if I am successful, if I do well in F3 that might inspire people, but I’m not a trailblazer because I’m not in F1, I have no accomplishments to base it on. No-one is going to listen to someone who is no good.’
Outside of ethnicity, Ahmed’s background has previously proved a barrier to his immense talent.
He is not from a racing family: his dad’s friend used to race Renault Clios as an amateur. He went to a karting track — Rye House, where Hamilton began — really enjoyed it and it went on from there, learning about the racing world as he went.
Ahmed has had to fight for sponsorship to compete in the expensive world of racing
Ahmed is no son of a billionaire like Stroll, nor backed by petro-dollars like past and present F1 racers Pastor Maldonado or Sergey Sirotkin. With all expenses included, it costs around £750,000 to compete in European F3 for a season.
In a previous interview, Ahmed revealed his parents were selling the family home to finance his dreams. Now, however, a mix of media exposure and raw talent has helped his cause.
He said: ‘I’m just thankful that I’m able to race in European F3 this year, because in December I don’t think I was going to be, I was planning on doing something else. Everything came together at the last minute, thank god for that.
‘Racing costs quite a lot of money, that’s the only downside to it. But it has helped me grow as a person, it has taught me how the real world works, with me having to meet so many people to get everything together. From the age of 15, I’ve been doing that on my own, I never had any managers, because they cost money. It has helped me in the long term, helped me grow up.
‘I’ve always been a fighter since I was a young kid, whether I was in karting fighting for results. No matter what sport you do, talent always rises to the top.’