Nahla Al Rostamani is paving the way for women in UAE motorsports

The first female F3 driver in the UAE is going beyond advocacy for women in motorsports to shatter deep-rooted gender stereotypes, writes May Rostom.

For the average Arab growing up in the ‘80s or ‘90s, gender stereotypes were very much common. Therefore, defying the rules was a challenge.

For Nahla Al Rostamani, the UAE’s first female F3 driver, it all started at age 12, when her uncle taught her to drive. Passionate about motorsports, she got behind the wheel at every opportunity.

“I’ve always had a curiosity towards driving. Even at theme parks, I’d choose bumping cars,” Al Rostamani recalls.

The now 35-year-old racer remembers karting almost every day at the Dubai Autodrome before being nominated to get her racing licence in Bahrain.

She says, “I had accepted to travel to Bahrain all alone to undergo a three-day training programme and get the Formula Ford licence. After successfully passing the challenge-filled race track, the team told me that I was the first Emirati girl to take this course and pass it.

“I was over the moon, and it made me want to push further and achieve more.”


After studying media with the dream of becoming a world-renowned journalist, the motorsports professional suddenly realised she was following the wrong goal.

“I sacrificed a lot in order to pursue my passion for motorsports. I gave up other dreams and goals in life, even spending time with my family, to develop my driving skills. I wanted to challenge myself and prove that women can do the impossible,” she explains. “I was surrounded by men who didn’t believe in my passion and talent. I was constantly put down by people who refused to teach me or even befriend me. I had the obstacles of tradition and culture around me since I was born, but that didn’t stop me from doing what I love.”


In 2007, Al Rostamani returned to the Autodrome, where she worked full-time as a marketing coordinator.

No job was too small for the ambitious racer. She volunteered and learnt how to keep the timing for races, getting to greet world-famous F1 drivers at special events. As the first Emirati female certified race timekeeper, Al Rostamani soon emerged as a key figure on the tracks.

“I always wanted to do more than just marketing. I made sure to include myself in every race, walk through the paddock to learn everything, and talk to drivers whenever I could. That’s when I volunteered to learn how to do the timings for the races. After timing over 40 races, I got my timing licence,” she adds.


Working her way up the career ladder, Al Rostamani assumed greater responsibilities at the Yas Marina Circuit (YMC) in Abu Dhabi,  serving as chief timekeeper and deputy circuit manager.

She reminisces: “After a couple of years at the Autodrome, I accepted a new challenge with YMC, and that meant being involved with F1. I started marshalling, doing race control, track prep, and rescue one, and I quickly became deputy circuit manager.

“Through my role, I was honoured to meet great racers and great people in motorsports and became friends with well-known drivers. I viewed my job as a passion, as my baby. I took care of the track, whether it meant cleaning debris or painting it, getting it ready to welcome F1. I spent more time on the track than with my family.”


Al Rostamani expects her efforts to advocate for women in motorsports in the UAE to continue through her daughter. With a remarkable 15-year career behind her, this pioneer sees no finish line for the race against gender stereotypes.