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Sheikh becomes the first Qatari to drive an F1 car 10 Dec 2009

His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, prepares to drive the Williams FW31 at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, December 10, 2009. © Williams His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, drives the Williams FW31 at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, December 10, 2009. © Williams His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar joins the Williams team for a group photo at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, December 10, 2009. © Williams His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar and Williams team principal Sir Frank Williams at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, December 10, 2009. © Williams His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, drives the Williams FW31 at the Losail International Circuit, Qatar, December 10, 2009. © Williams

On Thursday His Highness Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani became the first Qatari to drive a Formula One car when he took to the 5.3-kilometre Losail International Circuit in a Williams FW31. His Highness, who owns the Al-Anabi Group of Drag Racing Teams in the US and the Middle East, completed five laps of the Qatar track.

“The Williams FW31 is a remarkable vehicle, unlike any other race car I’ve ever driven,” he said after his run. “Being the first Qatarian to drive a Formula One car was an amazing experience I will not forget. I am proud that I was able to experience this honour at home in the State of Qatar.”

Williams announced in October they are to open the first Formula One-related technical centre outside Europe in the Middle Eastern state. The Williams Technology Centre (WTC) will be based at the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) and will be tasked with developing F1 technologies for commercial application.

His Highness, who recently won a 2009-10 Arabian Drag Racing League event, hopes to transform Qatar into a centre for international motorsports. Before stepping into the FW31’s cockpit, he completed a comprehensive preparation process, travelling to Williams’ UK base earlier in the week for a seat fitting and to spend time in the team’s simulator.

“It was a privilege to be able to facilitate this historic first for His Highness and the State of Qatar today,” said team principal Sir Frank Williams. “The team of engineers that worked with Sheikh Khalid reported that he demonstrated considerable skill and aptitude in the DIL simulator at our headquarters near Oxford this week.

"Based on his established competition experience and competence in the DIL, we extended an additional invitation to enable His Highness Sheikh Khalid to drive the FW31, and he acquitted himself with honours.

“We are delighted and honoured that His Highness has not only sampled our simulator technology which is the basis for our recent investment in the Qatar Science and Technology Park in Doha, but that he has now driven the FW31 and can not only draw comparison between the virtual and real world. Equally we hope a first-hand Formula One experience will assist in His Highness with his future vision for the Qatar Motor City.”

As well as His Highness's drive, Williams ran a series of demonstration laps with its 2010 line-up, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg, getting behind the wheel. Having raced and won at the circuit during the GP2 Asia championship, Hulkenberg had already sampled the Middle Eastern track and was glad to be back.

“I really like this circuit, it has a flow that suits my driving style, so it was great to come back here for a filming project with the team and to provide His Highness with some assistance in his first drive in a Formula One car,” said the German. “Although I doubt the straight-line speed compares with a Top Fuel Dragster that he is used to racing, I hope some of the other performance aspects of Formula One technology impressed him.”

For 11-time Grand Prix winner Barrichello it was the first time he’s had chance to sample the track, but he enjoyed the experience, saying: “There are plenty of corners on the Losail Circuit, so it took a while to memorise, but it had great grip level and the layout is great. It has a long enough straight to promote good overtaking and it would make a great venue for a Grand Prix.”

While Barrichello is expected to return home, Hulkenberg will stay in Qatar’s capital, Doha, next week to complete some training.