On Track with Enaam Ahmed: Pakistan’s Most Successful Motorsport Champion

Discover Enaam Ahmed’s thrilling journey: Record-breaking British-Pakistani racing sensation and go-karting World & European champion

Enaam Ahmed
Image via Instagram: @enaamofficial

Training vigorously to withstand intense conditions, driving at the speed of over 300 km/h as the engine roars, racing through time while the world comes to a standstill, experiencing G-forces similar to a fighter jet pilot, making split-second decisions that stand between victory and defeat, and crashing terribly in an instant with car debris flying everywhere-welcome to the dangerous yet thrilling world of a racing driver.

Enaam Ahmed, a 23-year-old British-Pakistani racing driver, has eight championships to his name. The words of Michael Schumacher, “Records are there to be broken,” were taken personally by Enaam Ahmed as he managed to break impressive records previously held by Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna, two absolute legends of Formula One (F1).

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Enaam Ahmed also became the first and only Pakistani go-karting World and European champion. The remarkable achievements of Enaam Ahmed make him the most successful motorsport driver originating from Pakistan.

Enaam Ahmed

Editing: Sarah Arif via canva.com

Sarah: At just eight years old, you sat in your first go-kart. Tell us about what or who led you to go-karting.

Enaam Ahmed: My father’s friend took me to a track with his son, just for fun. I grew to really enjoy and like it. My dad let me start practicing (go-karting). We never had the intention of going all the way to Formula One (F1) or anything like that. It was more of a father-son bonding thing. My dad never knew anything about racing and neither did I, so we had to learn everything from scratch.

As I moved up through the ranks, I won at local levels in go-karts, and then we decided to race in the British championship. When I was 12 years old, I was the British champion in go-karting, and Lewis Hamilton (7x F1 Champion & most successful driver in F1 history) did that when he was around the same age. It was then that my dad and I realized that maybe we could make a career out of this.

Sarah: Asian parents usually want their children to follow a more traditional career path. Was it hard for Enaam Ahmed to convince parents?

Enaam Ahmed: No. It was hard to convince my dad in the beginning, but to be fair to my parents, they were very supportive. My mom was not letting me do it because it was so dangerous. When I was eight-nine years old, I said, “Mom, please don’t stop me. Let me follow my dream”. She tells me this story and says that the way you looked at me, I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t stop you.

She says, “The way your eyes were, the energy behind them—I felt like this is meant for what you are supposed to do.”

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Sarah: Lewis Hamilton has often been vocal about how tough it was for him to grow up in a predominately wealthy white society. Did you ever face discrimination as a Muslim Pakistani?

Enaam Ahmed: I probably did, but it wasn’t in your face. If I had ever experienced it, I wouldn’t have really known about it. There were times when I felt like I was unfairly treated, especially when it came to penalties and things like that.

There were a few times where I was unjustly penalized for some things that I never did, not just in go-karts but also in my car racing career. Whether it was due to my race or not, I am not really sure. Maybe the guys did not like me or that is just the way they thought, you will never know unless you are there to find out those things afterwards.

Enaam Ahmed: Karting Champion to Racing at the Top

I went to the European and World Championships and my main rival was Mick Schumacher (Mercedes-AMG F1 reserve driver), Michael Schumacher’s son (7x F1 Champion & Ferrari’s most successful driver). All the drivers you now see on the F1 grid, we were all there around the same time. We were all growing up together, racing to get to the top against the best kids in the world.

When I was 14 years old, I won the World championship and the European championship ahead of Mick Schumacher. We were big rivals since we were kids. At that point, my father was like, “Maybe you can be good enough to go to Formula One.”

Enaam Ahmed

Karting World Champions, Enaam Ahmed (junior category) and Lando Norris (senior category). Instagram: @enaamofficial

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Sarah: I have always believed motor racing is a path your parents choose for you, considering the amount of money involved. Keeping in mind the hard work and failures you had to go through, did you ever think that maybe it was time to quit racing?

Enaam Ahmed: It’s a very good question. So, my parents financed me for my early days of go-karting. When I went to race in the World and European Championship levels, that is when it started to get very expensive. That is why I always had to win because my father was very hard on me, and he said, “You have to stand on your own two feet to get the sponsors, you have to get the funding, you have to win. I am not going to finance this. If you want to make this work, it is down to you.”

I left home at a very young age and I had to fight by myself, that is always how it has been. I mean, if my parents gave it me too easy and backed me the whole way then I would not be in the position that I am in now. I could have probably been in F1 a few years ago and in F2 (before), done the full program.

I always had lots of smaller sponsors but never had the full backing to get everything I needed, all the training, coaching and everything.

A lot of drivers have a peace of mind because they have rich daddies. They have a lot of big sponsors behind them, maybe from their countries. I never had that. So, I never put much thought or energy into preparing for my races as much as I wanted to.

God puts you in situations to make you stronger I believe. Even though it has been 15 years of suffering and I have had many victories and championships, I won 8 championships in my life, there have been a lot more failures than there has been success. But I have the perseverance to see it through until I am at least 30-35. I am going to try to see it the best I can then InshAllah after that, I am going to think about doing something else.

Q5. Let’s talk about 2017, Enaam Ahmed, you absolutely dominated British Formula 3. You broke Senna’s record for the most wins and remain the most successful British F3 driver history has ever seen. How did that make you feel?

British F3 summarized: I did two years of British F3. It is one of the hardest championships you can do. When I was 17 years old in my second year with Carlin, I won the championship. I won 13 races that year, still the most wins in history in a season. That record was held by Ayrton Senna for 40 years that I broke in 2017. It was a 55%-win ratio, which is very good win ratio.

Enaam Ahmed

2017 British F3 Champion. Photographer: Jakob Ebrey Credits: BBC

Enaam Ahmed: It felt good at the time but it didn’t feel that good because you know what? I knew, even after winning that, I still wasn’t good enough. I had to go and prove myself in European F3. I have always been the kind of guy, not negative, but I always think that I am not good enough. So, I always worked really hard.

Even after winning all those races, I knew I had to up my game another 30-40% to start succeeding in European F3. I never think that I am the best in the world or think that I made it. I don’t have this arrogant way of thinking. I always think that I am not good enough and I have to make myself much better to always be better.

I remember, I won the championship and I was happy for about 15 minutes to half an hour. After winning, me and my dad went to a Lahori restaurant. This was a thing we used to do every time we won a race, we used to go there. We were looking at each other and we weren’t actually that happy because we realized that we have to be a lot better next year.

We won this but still no one cares. I have to be driving even better than what I am doing and I have to figure out how to make myself a better driver, learn new techniques, need to be even more on the limit. When you are driving a racing car on the limit, it is very uncomfortable because the car is always out of control, you are always out of control.

Enaam Ahmed: Driving to Survive European Formula 3

I went to probably the hardest level of racing outside of F1 which is the European F3 championship. I came in with an underdog team and didn’t expect anything. Racing costs money, you need to have good sponsorships behind you. I came into that season, knowing I did not have the funding to do it. I was under a lot of pressure because if I didn’t succeed and win the first few races, I would never be able to carry on.

Everything I had and everything that I was doing was geared to this seat. It was a make-or-break season.I came to the first race with no expectations, lots of pressure. It was a wet qualifying, poled it and unfortunately, I could not win the race because of my lack of experience.

I finished second in the race. In the Hungaroring track, I put in pole and got a double win. Then I became the championship leader and had some approaches from F1 teams at the time. Usually, the guys I was racing with were in their second or third season like they had a lot more experience. It was very unusual for a rookie to come in and win so I was shocked to be honest.

I was leading the championship, two poles, two wins, in a team that had never won in those tracks. The first half of the season was great, I was third in the championship. The team I was with was good but we were not consistent like the top teams, Prema. Prema is backed by Ferrari so they are a hard team to beat and I was beating all six of their drivers at that time.

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Enaam Ahmed

Enaam Ahmed alongside Mick Schumacher & Jüri Vips respectively (2018). Photographer: FIA F3 / Suer

Unfortunately, second half of the year was the first time in my life where I made some mistakes that I regretted. Even with the winning, people were still not backing me which was unfortunately the problem being South Asian, especially Pakistan. I found out that the Muslim world tends to not back their own, sad thing but it is true.

The problem is, psychologically, I made some mistakes where I started trying too hard because I tried to prove that I was that much better that they have to get behind me. Then I had a few big crashes, made a few silly mistakes and you could say, basically I cracked. I was 17-18 years old and I cracked. I didn’t win the championship. Schumacher won it.

Mick and I had a rivalry our whole career and that was the one time that he beat me basically. For me, that was it. It was over. I did not have backing like a lot of these drivers had so if I didn’t win, I knew it was finished. Unfortunately, I never got my chance to do another year of that or go to Formula 2.

Sarah: After 2020, why did you divert your path from Formula to Indy series?

Enaam Ahmed: Actually, I did not see a future to be honest. To go to F2, you need like 2-3 million euros behind you. I couldn’t do that. The sponsorship I had at the time was probably about half a million. Even if I were to win F2, the likelihood of getting into F1 is still very slim because a lot of drivers who won in F2, still didn’t get a chance in F1.

My thinking was that at least with Indy, you get a scholarship if you win and a chance to race in IndyCar, which is a fantastic series. I love racing single-seaters and if there is still a chance in F1 in the future then yes. But I would never want to go to Formula One being in a team that is finishing at the back because a lot of drivers that stay in the mid-field teams don’t leave a legacy.

I would rather be in IndyCar because even if you are not in the best team, you still have a shot at winning as it is such a crazy race compared to F1. That’s why I prefer Indy at the moment.

Enaam Ahmed

Enaam Ahmed racing in Indy Pro 2000 Championship. Instagram: @enaamofficial

The American Life of Enaam Ahmed

When I came to America, I had absolutely nothing. I had an apartment but got kicked out, could not afford to pay rent, I was struggling. There were times when I could not even afford to eat 2-3 square meals a day because it was that tight. Everything that I raised went straight to racing. Zak Khan met me; he is one of the richest men here in the Midwest.

He said, “I know who you are, I have seen you race, you are very good. I want to take this strain off you, come and live in my guest house… I will fund part of your racing.” Without him, I would not be where I am now. Back then, this was two years ago, I was delivering pizzas just to make ends meet and racing on the weekends and having to win at the same time.

Enaam Ahmed

Hamilton, Enaam Ahmed, Norris & Wilson (left-to-right). ‘World Copyright: Alastair Staley/LAT Photographic.’ref: Digital Image _79P1738 EMN-141215-130943001

Sarah: Motor racing is a sport for the elite. Despite having such a successful record, you were struggling to get sponsors on board. Was it devastating to see the people you grew up with like Lando Norris and Mick Schumacher reach F1 before you could?

Enaam Ahmed: Yeah, yeah it was. Definitely, it was not easy. I mean, I knew I was good enough to do it but there were two things. I didn’t quite have the right people around me I believe at the time and also obviously, the backing. I still could have done a better job in F3 to be honest. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Maybe it wasn’t in my ‘kismat’ (destiny) to do it, I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason. If I get there in the end, I will be very grateful. If I don’t, it is what it is. I would still like to win in IndyCar. I just want to win at the top to prove that I was always good enough to do it.

Sarah: Is it infuriating to know that big money holds a greater weightage than talent in this sport?

Enaam Ahmed: Yes and no, because I am not the only one. There are many drivers, probably better than me who never got the chance to get out of go-karts, let alone car racing. Alhamdullilah, I am grateful that I even got to come to this point.

Sarah: You were racing under the British flag prior to 2022. What made you start racing under the Pakistani flag?

Enaam Ahmed: I still regard myself as a British-Pakistani. I take a lot of pride in wearing the Pakistani flag because it is not just a Pakistani flag, it’s the flag of Islam. I am a practicing-Muslim, wearing the crescent moon and star is very proud to me. At the end of the day, it is my heritage. I am proud of where my parents come from, who I am and a lot of my influences in my life are because of my culture.

My strengths and weaknesses also, I believe the bravery and commitment I have got to drive the car to the limit comes to me Pakistani. When I was younger, I struggled to have as much emotional control in the car and that is what I think prevented me in European F3. I was too young to understand how to control my brain as good as I do now.

Enaam Ahmed

Enaam Ahmed raising awareness for the 2022 Pakistan floods. Instagram: @enaamofficial

Sarah: You were born in London and have lived abroad your entire life. How did you manage to stay connected to your roots?

Enaam Ahmed: The food is a big thing for me. My favourite dish is Nihari and Haleem, that’s my comfort food. When I am not feeling the best or I am under a lot of pressure, the thing that honestly tends to make me happy or calm me down is Pakistani food. I haven’t been able to speak Urdu because I left home at such a young age, I forgot pretty much all of it. I wish I held on to it better and could understand it better.

Some say that you aren’t a real Pakistani because you weren’t born there. I have a lot of friends who say, “Forget about that! You are more Pakistani than them because you are proud to represent it.” At the end of the day, I meet a lot of Pakistanis who, unfortunately, are from there but they try to hide where they come from. Me? I am proud to rub it in people’s faces.

I am here in America where it is better for me to run under the British flag for sponsors than it is with the Pakistani flag. But I represent Pakistan because I want the image of the country to be better in the United States. When you come here and you are in a sport like IndyCar or just in general, you meet people who don’t know much about the world. I want to show them that we are world-spoken, we can be the best and I don’t kiss up to people unnecessarily.

Sarah: What are your future career goals?

Enaam Ahmed: I’m in a bit of a limbo right now because I’m in the process of raising sponsorships. I have been travelling to countries and I’m tired all the time as I have been getting 3-4 hours of sleep. I am training at the same time, twice a day. My goal, InshAllah, is to race full-time in Indy NXT next year and get a chance to win a title with a strong championship-winning team. If I win the title, (my goal) would be to race in IndyCar and become the first Pakistani to win the Indianapolis 500, which is the biggest race in the world.

For me, that would give me the greatest satisfaction and even though it isn’t Formula One, it is a similar feeling to winning an F1 championship because it is so hard. To prove that you are good enough to be racing with the best and to beat the best. That’s the one thing I want to do before I stop or die basically.

I’m always very optimistic and hard-headed. It is very hard to tell me that I can’t do something. I will always push through, whether it is through rage or determination.

Enaam Ahmed

Instagram: @enaamofficial

Sarah: Motorsports is not very popular in Pakistan and neither does Pakistan have enough facilities to support motor racing. What message do you have for young Pakistanis who want to pursue motorsports?

Enaam Ahmed: To get involved in motorsports from the engineering side, studying and getting involved with teams, there is a lot more opportunity. As a driver, very hard. I’ll be honest, it was hard enough having the facilities and racing with the best in England. The chances are small coming from England but even smaller coming from Pakistan, but where there is a will, there is always a way. For a Pakistani, you would have to be prepared to take the risk of leaving school, leaving everything, moving to Europe and trying to succeed in one way or another.

The problem is that you are not going to have a good backing in Pakistan if they don’t understand racing like India does. In India, they have a lot of backing for drivers, like a lot. Pakistan is always a bit behind from that point of view, unfortunately.

The biggest problem that I have seen in Pakistan, when I was there going to the facilities, is their unwillingness to listen. I went there to help, because it is my country and my people. I took some drivers to 24-hours race karting and things like that, and they just don’t listen. They are too busy being jealous of one another and trying to outdo one another. Some of them just don’t get it.

There will be a few kids, InshAllah, probably 7-8 years old, and I will take care of them. I have to drill into them the discipline and focus that you have to have.

Enaam Ahmed’s Path to Success: Accelerating With a Growth Mindset

They have two different mindsets, unfortunately, South Asians and, let’s say, European drivers. When I am around European drivers, they know when they are starting up, they know when they are not good enough, they stay quiet, they just work, work, work and keep that work ethic. Unfortunately, this tends to be the weakness of South Asian drivers from what I have seen. They are somebody who need to change their mentality.

The talent is there and the talent is huge. If they want to get a chance, don’t take this as criticism, but take this as a lesson. I have seen people in Pakistan who don’t like to take criticism, but that’s why I think they don’t go forward as a nation. They don’t accept it.

I have always been heavily critical of myself. Since I was a kid, I have had very harsh coaches and team bosses who are very direct. If I am not doing a good job, they tell me that I am doing a terrible job but I keep moving.

They say, “Enaam Ahmed You are going to be kicked out, fired and finished.” I have learned to handle that from a young age. (Pakistanis) have to understand how to handle that and not take it negatively. It was the same in my psychology, you get very high very quickly and as soon as you get some negative criticism, you go down very quickly.

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Fuel Your Fire

I like winning and I also want to prove to the youth back in Pakistan that if you have enough desire and perseverance, push through everything without any distraction. You got to be able to push through, you got to be able to win and pray your Namaz five times a day, that’s very important. You got to have discipline.

Discipline is doing something that you don’t like to do but doing it like you love it, that is discipline. As well as doing that, you got to hustle and have the charisma to be able to talk to people, attract people, get sponsors, be an entrepreneur and you really have to work hard and have the strength to go through. I have been on this for 15 years. It is worth it in the end and you can conquer the world. That’s what I want to prove.

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