Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1375, (4-10 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The road to pole position

Coincidence can be clever enough to lead a Formula One fanatic to discover his dream job. Ayman Abdel-Wahed talks to Mohamed Abdel-Razek on his career as a TV commentator 

Abdel-Wahed live from the commentating booth, F1 2010

Turning your hobby and what you are most passionate about into a lifetime career is something many people wish for. But when the roles are switched and you find yourself getting chased by your dream job, it might be just as good, if not better.

Ayman Abdel-Wahed, who has been in action commentating and analysing Formula One Grand Prix’s since 1994 when he first started his career at ART, the Saudi television and radio network, grew up in Dokki, Cairo, in the early 1960s. The hot-headed lad found joy in collecting small diecast car models from the Matchbox brand. “At four my favourite toy was the Matchbox cars that my parents used to get for me from a shop in our neighbourhood”, said Abdel-Wahed. From a PT70 toy that triggered a passion deep inside Abdel-Wahed to the bicycle he spent most of the day riding at Gezira Club, something was building. “I used to store my bike at the club, and once my mother took me to Gezira I started riding my bicycle and did stunts. It was really my ultimate joy,” added Abdel-Wahed.

The young boy had to move to Libya for three years with his father who was an engineer, spending most of his middle school there. Once Abdel-Wahed made it back to Cairo, he was part of a foreign exchange student programme, which gave him the chance to spend his high school in the US. It seemed something started to chase Abdel-Wahed. The family he stayed with in the US were Harley Davidson fanatics. He came back to Cairo fuelled with a passion for motorcycles, and after hectic efforts to convince his parents to buy him a bike, Abdel-Wahed got a Yamaha 100 at the age of 16. “This bike formed me. I used to disassemble it, tune it and even race it.”

Travelling all over Egypt with his small motorbike while going to The American University in Cairo where he majored in mass communication, it was simply the adventure that drove Abdel-Wahed and nothing else. He graduated and worked as a banker for two years. “I didn’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life, so I had to quit and seek adventure,” Abdel-Wahed said. He moved to tourism, and Australia. “The time I spent in the US changed me a lot. I had that desire to travel the world.” 

Covering the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010

In Australia in 1989, Abdel-Wahed started watching Formula 1 and MotoGP and got hooked right away with no idea where it would lead him one day. Four years forward, Abdel-Wahed was visiting Egypt to sell his property so he could open his own business and settle in Australia. He met his best college friend, Hisham, who was looking for a job. Trying to help him out, Abdel-Wahed went to the employment fair at AUC, brought him a catalogue, and marked the jobs that might have suited Hisham who also majored in mass communication. While Abdel-Wahed was at work in the tourism office, Hisham called and told him of that job offer at ART. Abdel-Wahed went straight away and was accepted after a seven-minute interview. Here was the major turning point in his life which put him on track. 

Abdel-Wahed was sent to the head studios of ART in Italy 1994 where he started off with a simple job, monitoring the transmission and drawing up the daily schedule of the movie channels. One night, while he was going across the channels, he saw the Formula One race aired on ART. “From that moment I kept a monitor dedicated to Formula One events in the studio and I watched each and every race”, said Abdel-Wahed. 

One day while having lunch with his colleagues at the channel he met Khaled Al-Ghoul who was the F1 commentator at that time. Their discussions on F1 led Al-Ghoul to invite him to the commentary box for the next race. From that point Abdel-Wahed officially started his career as a motorsport commentator.  

Abdel-Wahed quickly established himself as a qualified F1 commentator who went to famous championships everywhere in all the channel networks in the Middle East, starting in ART, then Al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, Showtime, and now BeIN sports.

“If I can mention someone who I looked up to in my career, he must be Murray Walker,” said Abdel-Wahed. Walker is an English F1 commentator considered the most iconic of all time. He started commentating on F1 from 1948 to 2001 and is still working in the field. Abdel-Wahed added that once he knew he would specialise in F1, he started searching, reading, and watching international channels that cover F1 like Euro Sports and Sky Sports.

Abdel-Wahed picked the rivalry of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as the best of all time, or at least since he started watching F1. “In the 1950s and 60s drivers had brave hearts, with no safety whatsoever and cars with nearly nothing to assist the drivers. I believe they were legends.” 

Interviewing F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya

Abdel-Wahed believes that with the development of cars, drivers also dramatically transformed to the extent that if we could get Juan Manuel Fangio out of his car after winning the world championship five times in the 1950s and put him in Lewis Hamilton’s car today he would not be able to perform. “The dynamics of the car and the characteristics of the driver, meaning his physique, diet, stamina and the mental and reactions training they receive today, all work in harmony,” Abdel-Wahed said.

On Prost and Senna, Abdel-Wahed said he believed Senna was more naturally gifted but that nobody could take away the four world champions away from the “professor”. Abdel-Wahed also described Senna as arrogant, always believing he’s the only one who had the right to win among all other drivers, despite believing that Senna is the best of his era.

On the future of F1, Abdel-Wahed believes that from the moment manufacturers took over most teams, the focus started on using F1 cars and experience to develop production vehicles. Since production engines are getting smaller to save the world, the fun and entertainment in F1 is falling. “We can’t compare the pure V12 or V10 and V8 engines to the current 1.6 Turbo Hybrid engines and the DRS and other additions that I believe took away so much excitement. It’s turning out to be artificial,” Abdel-Wahed said. 

Safety oriented strategies by circuit builders chopped a big chunk of excitement, Abdel-Wahed believes, like the very wide runoff areas of today, meaning that if the driver goes wide in the corner he comes back on the track, while in the past if the driver made a mistake in the corner he ended up smashing into the wall, which differentiated winners from losers. 

The best era according to Abdel-Wahed was from 1988 to 2000. He personally enjoyed 1994/1995, the rivalry between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, and 1998, 1999 and 2000, the rivalry between Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen. On Kimi Raikkonen, Abdel-Wahed believes he is good but never considered him a top driver and that he is very inconsistent.

On the best driver of all time, Abdel-Wahed couldn’t give a name but agreed on a one-two-three podium finish. He picked Senna first, Schumacher second and Hamilton third. He added that in the 1970s Gilles Villeneuve was the best, the 1980s Niki Lauda, and that in general Senna is better than Lauda.

The best championship he saw was in 1989. “All what I wish for F1 in the future is that the excitement would come back and we can see cars and circuits beyond the limit of the drivers,” said Abdel-Wahed. 

Abdel-Wahed will be reviewing next season’s F1 championship in Al-Ahram Weekly.

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