Yassmin Abdel-Magied: Modifying Her Motorsport Dream
When Yassmin Abdel-Magied vowed to be the first “black, Muslim, female Formula 1 driver”, she still had not quite worked out what exactly it was that she loved about cars.
What she was clear about was that the go-kart race scene in the movie Catch That Kid had ignited a secret thrill in her. And it was strong enough for the then 13-year-old Sudanese living in Brisbane to be consumed by the electrifying world of motorsport for the rest of her adolescence.
“Being a Formula 1 driver was my dream,” Yassmin told woman with drive in a recent interview. “I started borrowing library books on cars, watching televised races and convincing my parents to let me visit car expos. I even picked school subjects that fit my dream. By time I reached Grade 12, I knew I truly loved cars.”
“Then I suddenly discovered a whole new group of friends and a different language. There is an adrenalin rush that comes with motorsport. And there is something about understanding how to make machinery work to its limits and being united around one vision. It is such a team sport!”
Over the following years, Yassmin ran a race team at university, got involved in race car design and started a not-for-profit youth organisation called Youth Without Borders to provide children various learning and social opportunities. Then came the golden offer – a place at Cranfield University in the U.K. to pursue a Masters in Advanced Motorsport Engineering. Yassmin leapt at it.
Things quickly fell into place. Yassmin deferred her Masters for a year and secured a job as an engineer on an oil and gas rig in Perth to pay her way to the UK She also enlisted one of the best chassis designers in the world to help her with her thesis. Her future in motorsport had never seemed clearer.
And then she changed her mind.
Also read: A Different Eye On The World Of Motorsport
You decided not to pursue your Masters after asking yourself this question – is everything my parents have given up for me coming up to this moment? That is a big question. What was going on at the time?
My parents had made enormous sacrifices in coming to Australia, and had always lived their lives around community and service. I started thinking about the impact Youth Without Borders was having and I knew that being part of a Formula 1 team would not be the best use of my full capacity in society. I tried convincing myself that I would still be of service since much of the Formula 1 technology ends up in cars but I could not get rid of that voice that asked me whether this was the culmination of everything.
It was probably the hardest decision I have ever made. I had set up my life around it. The world of motorsport is intoxicating particularly Formula 1. It is the epitome of engineering excellence. All my friends were in motorsport, my race team was my family and I had made connections in the industry. And then I had to turn around and tell everyone I had changed my mind. And I had to explain why, especially to all those who had invested in me and vice versa. I felt I had let all of them down.
What is your involvement with motorsports now?
A few years ago I started writing for a website called richardsF1 which is now called MotorsportM8. Through that gig, I covered the Grand Prix in Malaysia, Monaco and Barcelona. All were amazing experiences. I walked along the track at Monaco and stood at the tunnel as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fanged it out.
I had the freedom to ask the drivers anything I wanted. I sat down with different team principals to talk about how they ran their business and talked to the designers. That level of access is something I would never have even gotten as an engineer because I would have been tied to one team. I loved it!
You have just released your first book, Yassmin’s Story. What was the writing experience like?
Emotionally exhausting and incredibly hard. My first draft was like writing a diary but then my editors sent back a load of questions that made me reflect. And this is where you have to be super self-aware and honest with yourself. You are essentially talking about your life in intense detail – how you think, your relationships, your experiences and insecurities.
It is being honest about your mistakes and the things you are not proud of, and deciding how much of that to give to the world. You want to protect how the world sees you but you also want to be authentic because that is what people respond to. So I have written a book about how I started out like everyone else, the decisions I made and the support that got me to where I am. I want anyone reading it to feel it is achievable for them too.
What did you learn about yourself through the writing process?
That I still see vulnerability as weakness rather than strength. As a Muslim woman of colour, it is all about having strength to fight the odds and not let anything get you down. But then how do you allow for the soft stuff? I realised I do not have a place for that in my life because I have focused so much on the fight.
What was the most difficult story to write?
The issues around Youth Without Borders. I have a lot of personal pride attached to the organisation and many people come to us because of our reputation. People have an idea of a functional youth organisation where everything works well but we had many failures, some of which I have to own. But those failures are part of the story. Talking about them will help others understand that mistakes are ok and there are times when things will work and times when it will not.
“As a woman…” or “As a Muslim…” Which of these usually preface a question?
In the oil and gas industry, it is the former and in the rest of society, the latter. The reality is that Muslim women are not in most people’s worlds yet in Australia. And this is why I insert myself into places I do not “belong”.
Complete these sentences:
I am excited about the rest of the book tour
I fear not doing enough
I am inspired by other young people doing good stuff
I understand not everybody sees the world the way I do
I would risk everything if it meant I could make an impact
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