February 06, 2005
Me and My Motors: Sheikh Maktoum
Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum al Maktoum, 28, is the nephew of the Crown Prince of Dubai. A committed motor racing fan, he announced last year that he planned to create the A1 Grand Prix series, dubbed the sport's world cup. The first race takes place in September
Sheikh Maktoum is one of the world’s richest men and has a car collection to prove it. In a garage the size of a small aircraft hangar in the middle of his desert kingdom he has a Range Rover, a BMW 645, a Ford Exhibition SUV and a Caterham R500.
He drives the BMW to work — which means helping to run a country one-fifth the size of Wales with an GDP of £17 billion. The other cars are for pleasure, including indulging in the local pastime of wadi bashing — driving up and down over sand dunes.
NI_MPU('middle');The sheikh discovered a passion for cars from an early age. “I was driving a car when I was four years old sitting on my father’s lap,” he says. “And I was driving alone in the desert when I was eight. I have always loved the freedom and challenge it represents.”
Of course the sheikh, or Hasher as he prefers to be known (his full title is His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum of Dubai), had fewer obstacles to indulging his passion than most people. As a member of the fabulously wealthy Maktoum family that rules the oil-rich emirate, he more or less had the run of an entire nation. But unlike other members of his family who are better known for their love of four-legged horsepower, Hasher’s interest in cars is showing no sign of abating.
Last year he announced he was setting up a rival to Formula One racing — the sport ruled by another billionaire, Bernie Ecclestone. Hasher believes A1 Grand Prix will bring variety to a sport that is in danger of becoming moribund. The championship will see national teams pitted against one another in identical single-seater cars that, while not as fast as F1 cars, have been designed to provide exciting racing with plenty of overtaking. At least 23 countries are said to be taking part in the series, including Australia, Canada, China, South Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, Holland and Britain — which will host the first round in September.
The start-up costs have been huge. Hasher and his investors are believed to have paid out £44m and prize money is costing £38m over the first three seasons.
Despite his wealth Hasher says he found it hard to be taken seriously when he was setting up the concept. “It hasn’t been easy. At first everyone thought, ‘Oh no, here comes another rich kid with his tricks,’ but then they sat back and thought about it and realised it was a great opportunity.”
He claims that for him the project has been more than simply a business. “I have always had a passion for speed. I’m an adrenaline junkie. For me, driving is a more natural state than walking.”
His favourite pastime in Dubai is desert driving, taking his huge Ford Exhibition or a souped-up Range Rover to tear around the sands. But he admits that the landscape can become a little monotonous. For the true driving experience he cites Italy. “The roads in Italy from Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany to Florence, Pisa, then up to Milan and around Lake Como are my favourite roads. Unfortunately I haven’t got time to participate in the Mille Miglia [the annual road race in Italy for sports cars built between 1927 and 1957] but when I have more time that would be a cool experience.
“My other favourite roads are in Dubai as they are very good and I can drive fast on them. I don’t like speed limits.” Driving in Britain, however, is not ideal. “The best roads in Britain are the B roads in the countryside,” says Hasher. “Everywhere else there is too much traffic.”
Not that this bothers him to an extreme degree: “I don’t suffer road rage, it’s not worth it. So your journey will take 25 minutes instead of 20 minutes. I don’t see a reason to get worked up about it. If someone does something stupid I get angry for about five minutes and then I let it pass. I’m a pretty sensible driver, fairly calm.”
With the funds to buy any car he wants, there haven’t been many old bangers in the sheikh’s ownership history, although there have still been some incidents. “I had a Jeep Cherokee that blew up once and caught fire when I was driving in Dubai. I’ve also had the usual experiences of changing tyres and running out of fuel — that is something you only do once before you learn the lesson.”
Given his obvious love of cars and the depth of his pockets, it comes as something of a surprise that his own fleet is not even more glamorous than it is.
“What’s the point? How many cars can you drive at once?” he asks indignantly. “I am a businessman. I don’t have a fantasy car. I just drive from A to B in the shortest time.”
If that sounds a little too humble, perhaps it is. Hasher lets slip a little later that a Ford GT is on order and due soon. ON HIS CD CHANGER
My taste in music depends on the traffic. In heavy traffic I listen to Enya
but on long, empty roads I switch on rock music and increase the tempo. At the moment I have two current hits compilations, one soothing CD, one hard-rocking CD