For Reema Juffali, there’s no feeling quite like racing in your home city on the streets of Jeddah. Soaking in the opportunity, she’s eager to use the experience to encourage young Saudis to dream.

Reflecting on her call up as F1 Academy’s first-ever Wild Card driver for the opening round of the 2024 season in Saudi Arabia, Juffali says it was a chance she couldn’t miss out on and wants to savour every second of it.

“When I got the call, it didn’t take me a few seconds to say yes,” said Juffali. “Not having raced in my hometown before, having this opportunity means so much to me and I’m really thankful for everyone who made it possible

“It’s a bit surreal at the moment, I don’t think it’s really come to me. When you’re on the track you’re kind of in a certain mode, but leaving the track, going home and it’s only 20 minutes away - all of that feels quite unusual. I’m just managing my emotions right now, so when the racing comes, I’m not out of my depth or feeling overwhelmed, but I’m just super excited to share with everyone here to be honest.”

As Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, Juffali is a trailblazer both for women at home and abroad. Whilst her hunger for glory is undiminished, she recognises that her success is measured in more than just results, as she looks to do her home crowd justice out on track.

“First and foremost, I want to enjoy it,” she said. “I want to enjoy it with everyone that's here attending – my family, friends, people that have never seen me race before. This is my first time I'm going to be able to share it with everybody at home and I obviously want to do it justice. I am competitive, I am a racing driver.

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“I don't want to put any expectations out there. The grid is so competitive and it's really impressive to see how close everyone is. So, we’ll just have to see, but I’m honestly just here to have fun and put on a good show.”

After sampling the Jeddah Corniche Circuit during the three days of pre-season testing, Juffali is ready to get a full taste of what the 6.174km track has in store. Getting lots of mileage under her belt in advance, she says reacting to even the most minor changes in conditions will be crucial as she readjusts her techniques to extract the most out of the car.

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“It’s been thrilling,” Juffali said. “It’s a street circuit unlike your regular circuits. It will always improve and the grip constantly changes, it’s a drastic difference between the morning session and the evening session, it’s crazy. As a driver on new tyres, you have more grip at a certain time, but it seems to keep on evolving.

“Not having raced on a street circuit before, it takes some adjustment and understanding where the grip is, being a bit more attentive. Definitely the walls are closer, so the margin for error means you’re not as risk averse. It’s just about having a cool head and building up. I think the three days really helped all the girls I’m sure to find their feet and feel comfortable. It’s quite an intimidating track I would say.

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“You ask a lot of the car and you have to be quite aggressive with the car. That’s a bit counterintuitive, at least for me, so I’ve had to become a lot more aggressive in my braking and rotation turning into the corners. Also, your apex is the wall, so you have to be okay with getting that close to the wall.

“I’ve not really brushed the wall, but chipping away to being as close as I feel comfortable that I can to these walls. It’s super rewarding when you get it right because it’s such a flowing circuit. I think it speaks for itself and the drivers all generally say that they love it here, so see how it goes.”

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Whilst Juffali looks to leave her mark out on track, she hopes that the legacy of her appearance in F1 Academy’s opening round gives the home fans the encouragement and pathways to chase their own dreams.

“I think it’s super important to have initiatives like this,” she explained. “You can see the level of quality of the drivers, and not just drivers. I have mechanics and engineers giving the women the opportunity to shine and they grab it. It’s such a great example of what we see and what we should see more of in motorsports.”

“In terms of young Saudis who aspire to go racing, I hope that this gives them that opportunity to dream. To think that this is possible, I can actually do that - it’s not just a Formula 1 driver in the past, they’re younger drivers and that it’s not too late for me or I can start thinking about it. All of these little things I think are things that will serve well I’m hoping.

“At the same time, it’s pushing me to continue to do this. It’s pushing me to continue to open the opportunities for them, whether it is being a Wild Card, whether it is joining another race in Saudi. I’m so hopeful from what I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks with the young talent around that we will see a Saudi on track, and it won’t just be me because it’s been too long now and hoping to see a young Saudi out there making a name for themselves”.