French GP: Saudi woman fulfills lifelong dream to drive F1 car

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Aseel Al-Hamad drives F1 car

Ban on female drivers lifted in Saudi Arabia

CNN  — 

As the ban on women drivers was lifted in Saudi Arabia, one of the country’s leading female motorsport figures marked the occasion by getting behind the wheel of a Formula One car at the French Grand Prix.

Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member of Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, drove a Lotus Renault E20 vehicle around the Circuit Paul Ricard prior to Sunday’s race.

The same Lotus car took Finnish driver Kimmi Raikkonen to victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012 and was part of a cavalcade of motorcars displayed by the manufacturer as part of its “Passion Parade” event.

“I have loved racing and motorsport from a very young age and to drive a Formula One car goes even beyond my dreams and what I thought was possible,” Al-Hamad said in a statement released by Renault.

“I hope doing so on the day when women can drive on the roads in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows what you can do if you have the passion and spirit to dream,” she added.

Al-Hamad had driven the vehicle earlier this month but that was in private and not before the tens of thousands of F1 fans that attended Sunday’s race.

Read: Landmark day for Saudi women

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CNN spoke to numerous women in Saudi Arabia who took to the roads as the conservative Kingdom Sunday, with most expressing their glee at now being legally able to drive.

“I feel happy, relieved. I feel like I’m free,” said Mona Al-Fares, a doctor from Jeddah.

In Riyadh, Aliah Naser watched as her mother, Romoush Bana, drove for the first time and posted an image of the moment to Instagram.

“I was super excited about this change in Saudi and really hope that everyone can have fun and enjoy these changes.”

Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that prevented women from driving prior to Sunday.

The decision to change the law is part of wider reforms being spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a bid to transform its society and diversify its oil-rich economy.

However, many other restrictions on women’s everyday lives remain in place under the male guardianship system – including the right to marry, work or travel.