LE CASTELLET/ RIYADH - Renault stole a march on their Formula One rivals on Sunday when they gave a Saudi Arabian woman a chance to mark a special day by driving one of their cars ahead of Sunday’s French Grand Prix.

On the same day that women celebrated being allowed to drive on the roads of Saudi Arabia, Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member of her national motorsport federation, took the wheel of the same car in which Kimi Raikkonen won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

She was part of a Renault ‘passion parade’ hours ahead of the first French Grand Prix in a decade and the first to be held at the Le Castellet circuit for 28 years.

Aseel, who is a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, is a keen driver and motor sport enthusiast who took part in a training day on June 5 at the circuit.

“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.

“It is a genuine honour to drive in front of the crowds at the team’s home race in France. “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 the spirit to dream.”

Aseel is responsible for creation of strategies to promote the education and training of women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia.

 One Saudi Arabian woman

on her first drive

“My name is Samar Almogren. I’m a talkshow host and writer.

“I took off my niqab a long time ago. When I first decided to show my face on television, it did not go down well. My brothers were very upset. But my father supported me, and has always supported me in all of my life decisions. He’s the one who encouraged me to study abroad.

“I’ve driven in different countries before, and I have an international driver’s license, but it’s going to be totally different here. At home. “I actually hate driving. But that’s not the point. The point is that it is my right. I can drive, and whether I choose to or not is another issue.

“My whole body is tingling right now. To get in my car, to hold this steering wheel, after having lived my entire life, since the moment I entered this world, in the back seat... This is now my responsibility, and I’m more than ready to bear it. I’ve long depended on myself.

“I always knew this day would come. But it came fast. Sudden.

“I think this was the biggest stumbling block. I don’t see any more obstacles from here on. Driving was the big one, and that’s done now.

“I decided to wear white tonight. The black abaya has become the mark of the Muslim woman. But there’s no religious text that states that a woman must wear a black abaya. The aim is modesty. I’m not against the black abaya, but I am against forcing it upon anyone.

“Everyone’s already asking me to drive them to work or to come for coffee. It’s going to be great to be able to take my mother around, rather than have her sit in the backseat with a driver who’s a stranger. No, my mom isn’t going to drive, at her age. We’re going to drive her around, me and my sisters. We want to spoil her.

“What’s most important to me is that I can drive my baby around. It’s the worst thing to me to have to entrust him to a driver, even though I’m always with him in the car.

“I wore white tonight because it’s the color of peace. I feel like a butterfly... No, a bird. I feel free like a bird.”