Young British driver has his eyes on even bigger prizes after hitting the front early in his European F3 career.
As far as champagne moments go, the young British driver Enaam Ahmed has already pulled off an absolute corker. After a stunning double win in the European F3 series at the Hungaroring, the 18-year-old hurled himself from the top step and slammed the bottle to the floor, blowing its contents sky high, into his own face and sending his baseball cap cartwheeling. It was exuberant, spectacular stuff that reflects the driving and character of this refreshingly forthright teenager. More important, such is his promise it is not likely to be the last time he sprays bubbly with abandon.
His celebration had not been planned but Ahmed is a singular character who likes doing things his own way. “It was completely spontaneous,” he says. “The cork blew my cap off and just missed my eye but I will do it again, it might become my signature move.”
His confidence in a return to the top step is justified by a rookie season in European F3 that has far exceeded expectations and which he hopes will ultimately lead to a seat in Formula One. Yet he very nearly did even not make it to the grid this season.
Of British Asian descent, Ahmed grew up in west London to mother Samina, an Indian Kenyan and dad Shami, who is Pakistani. Neither had any interest in, or experience of, motor racing. Lewis Hamilton’s F1 title in 2008 changed the eight‑year‑old’s life, however.
“It was Lewis that got me into it,” he explains. “He caught my eye, because he was the first black driver. He caught everyone’s eye in Britain.”
Fittingly, he began karting in 2008 at Rye House, where the four‑times world champion had raced as a youngster. By the time Ahmed was 14 he was considering making it a career. The success that followed convinced him it was the right route. That year he won five karting championships, including the world and European titles.
It was a pivotal moment. “Racing was the only thing in my life that made me fully lit at all times,” he says with obvious passion. “Everyone has something they are good at and I loved racing, I loved the competition.”
He graduated to British F3 in 2016 and, having learned the ropes, made an extraordinary assault on the championship the next year, taking the title by 164 points. In doing so he eclipsed one of the greats, claiming 13 wins, one more than Ayrton Senna managed in 1983.
Ahmed remembers it as a special moment, one that he had earned with his distinctive and decisive style. In the final race at Donington, he was behind his team-mate Cameron Das. Enjoying a settled car with understeer, Ahmed relishes late braking and, determined not be denied a 13th triumph, made a late lunge at the Melbourne hairpin to take the lead and the win.
But there it almost came to a halt. The move to European F3 – the stepping stone towards F2 – is prohibitively expensive and with no major team backing it looked like it might not happen. His parents went as far as putting their house on the market to raise funds for him to have a shot. It was on sale until December when finally he secured enough backing to enable the family to keep a roof above their heads.
This season, expected to be a learning process against tough and experienced opposition, has been a revelation. He took his first podium in the opening round at Pau before his wins at the Hungaroring last weekend. He now leads the championship from the Ferrari academy driver Guanyu Zhou and Red Bull junior Dan Ticktum.
There is some way to go but Ahmed is cautiously confident. “I think I could win it,” he says. “Before I didn’t believe it was possible but the goal is now in my sights.”
There is more than raw talent here. Ahmed has been putting the hours in at every level, making a point of working on the cars post-race. “It makes for a lot of camaraderie with the guys,” he says. “Every team I work with I do the same and I feel I gain a lot of respect.”
It has by no means been an easy ride but he insists at least he has not had to deal with any racism, his talent on the track doing the talking. “It’s quite easy to think that if people don’t like you on track it is racism,” he says. “It’s not. You have to earn respect, that’s what matters. No one likes a terrible driver.”
His childhood dream of F1 remains the target, potentially painful for his mother who is still too fearful to watch him race, but nonetheless Ahmed will be throwing absolutely everything into achieving it, as he did on the podium in Hungary. “In racing you have to be on it at all times, you can’t leave anything on the table. You have to always be there. This was the only sport that got my adrenaline pumping. I just love it.”