Brisbane university student Yassmin Abdel-Magied has a passion for fast cars, Yassmin Abdel-MagiedFormula 1 and equal opportunity rights.

And as dreams go, hers is certainly particular: to become the first female Muslim to work in – or indeed race – in Formula 1.

A mere pipedream, or is there more lying beneath the surface? Yassmin spoke exclusive to Richard’s F1 to tell all…

Now a lover of Ferraris and muscle cars, Sudan-born Yassmin’s obsession with motorsport came in her early teens.

“I saw a film where a kid was a go kart racer and fell in love with the idea,” she recalls. “I then began to read more and more about cars, machines, F1 and racing. I remember taking out all the F1 history books from the library and trying to remember all the names of the greats.”

Fascinated by an “especially controversial” season, she was certainly impressed by the 2010 Formula 1 season.

“It was also an extremely tight race to the championship!” she exclaimed. “It kept things interesting, quite different to previous years that had a clearer winner. It was also interesting to see Michael Schumacher return, although it was a little strange not to see him with Ferrari!”

A mechanical engineering degree could propel Yassmin Abdel-Magied into motorsport
A qualification in mechanical engineering could be the spring-board to propel Yassmin into a career in motorsport 

As for having a motorsport idol, that’s a trickier question, although she wouldn’t be a patriotic Australian without having an appreciation for Mark Webber’s battle to get into Formula 1.

“He started quite late and he went for years without huge successes but has persevered and is now achieving amazing things.”

Perhaps there are some parallels to be drawn between Webber situation and that which Yassmin could be facing.

Despite having had limited, if any, racing experience, she certainly knows what she wants and is prepared to work hard to get it.

And that’s why she’s studying a mechanical engineering degree at university. All the better – rather like Nico Rosberg, one might argue, he started out wanting to be an aerodynamicist – to have a thorough understanding of your field in order to better prepare you for it.

And if the racing option doesn’t necessarily come about, Yassmin still has her sights set on a technical role in motorsport, a field where there are few women working professionally, and even fewer working in specialist engineering roles.

“I am pursuing this at the same time, because I have a passion for both facets of the sport,” Yassmin adds.

“For my final year thesis in fact, I will be designing the chassis for our University Formula SAE race car – as well as hopefully driving it – so I am looking to gain experience and exposure to all sides of the sport and hopefully one of them will give me a breakthrough.”

The ‘female five’ (L-R): Giovanna Amati, Divina Galica, Lella Lombardi, Desiré Wilson, Maria Teresa de Filippis

The absence of women in the sport – there have been just five women who have attempted to qualify for a Grand Prix in the sport’s history – is an issue that has long since caused Yassmin pause for thought, and an issue, she argues, that the sport needs to address if it is to appeal to a wider demographic.

“I think in terms of embracing the female demographic, a long process of culture change and acceptance is required. Even in mechanical engineering women aren’t very common and those who do start in the industry tend to leave,” she adds.

“[While] I have had many people wish me luck and unequivocal support (for my endeavours), and I have had others tell me that this isn’t really the place for women, let alone Muslims.

“I think it actually brings up a lot of other issues that lie beneath the surface as well in terms of gender equality in such a sport and what people think Muslim females can or can’t do.”

  Yassmin Abdel-Magied argues that 'a process of culture and change' is required in F1 in order for it to appeal to a wider demographic
Yassmin argues that ‘a process of culture and change’ is required in F1 for it to appeal to a wider (female and Muslim) demographic.

And Yassmin is perhaps better qualified than many to comment on the issue. Voted the Young Queenslander of the Year in 2010, she also set up – at just the age of 16 – a network for community-minded teens called Youth Without Borders. The group advocates for youth issues and facilitates the development of networks to achieve better outcomes for young people and their communities, concentrating on specific issues of leadership, integrity and social justice.

Such altruism is sometimes a rare product in many teens trying to gain their own sense of self in an adult world, but Yassmin acts as an inspiration to many in tackling issues of gender and religious stereotyping. Her maturity certainly belies her age, and we at Richard’s F1 will be watching her progress with interest.

[Original images via Australian of the Year, Courier Mail, In Design Live]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.