Former British Formula 3 race winner Jazeman Jaafar is set to get his first taste of Formula One machinery this weekend.
The Malaysian was rewarded with an opportunity to pilot a two-year-old Mercedes F1 car around the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur.
Jaafar – runner-up to Jack Harvey in last year’s British F3 Series – is set to take to the streets for a demonstration alongside Mercedes reserve Sam Bird on Sunday ahead of next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.
The call up came somewhat out of the blue for Jaafar, but the 20-year-old was required no second thoughts. “Well it came in by surprise really. I had an email and a phone call sometime at the end of January asking whether I was available on this date. They said, “Are you available to drive the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 car in Malaysia?” and in a heartbeat I said “yes”. It’s like a dream come true for me, especially with my debut driving in Malaysia.”
In the lead up to the spectacle, Jaafar has been readying himself for the demonstration, but will not step into the car in anger for the first time this weekend. “I don’t get to drive the car beforehand, so I’ve [been] preparing myself in a simulator in Brackley, which has been going well. I will try to enjoy every wheelspin, burnout, donut etc… as I can and I hope the fans will enjoy it too!”
Grand Prix racing first arrived in the Malaysian region in the early-60s (prior to Singapore’s independence), but Formula One did not arrive in the country until 1999. The Grand Prix has remained solidly on the calendar ever since; however the sport is still finding its feet in the Far East.
“It’s slowing growing. There’s definitely loads of interest and awareness now, but the problem is some of the top categories such as Formula 3, World Series [do] not have an event in Malaysia. The only big event would be Formula 1 and that’s it.”
Despite this, Jaafar is confident that motorsport’s time will eventually come. “It takes time for the nation to understand the grass roots level. Only recently Malaysians got live coverage from these events, but I must say it’s been good and there’s also loads of upcoming talents. [There] will definitely see more Malaysians competing in Europe in the near future.”
Beyond his stint with Mercedes, Jaafar has plenty on his plate for this season, as he makes the move to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series this year, staying with Carlin. After setting some very credible stints in the tests so far, Jaafar has been swift to declare the machine and quick and respectable beast. “The car itself is really impressive, very quick and there is a lot of downforce. To add on top of that, World Series has a very competitive field, having the top ten or twelve within a second.”
As well as being a new machine to throw around circuits, the Formula Renault 3.5 series presents other new elements to Jaafar. “A new challenge for me would also be pitstops and having a longer race which would be very interesting. Testing has been going well and I’ve practiced all the procedures as well. I’m looking forward to this new chapter in my career to learn and do well.”
His aims are simple and achievable should he put his mind and abilities to it. Indeed, Jaafar puts his target as plainly as possible: “Definitely to do well and score as much points as I can.”
Jaafar came close to being the first Malaysian to take an international series in 2012, having missed out on a British F3 triumph by thirteen points; however the campaign did much to raise his confidence a step. “As of last year, having the full points for the reverse grid race has built up my race craft and confidence which would definitely bring it up to World Series. I’m proud to be carrying the title Vice Champion in British Formula 3,” noted Jaafar.
His career will now take him to wider European plains, but will he miss one of the homes of motorsport? “Other than the weather in England, I’ve enjoyed racing over there. The atmosphere, the people, the racing, is just so pure. Most of the tracks are very challenging.”
Nations cheering on a local hero in motorsport is nothing new. Will be Jaafar be Malaysia’s first modern international motorsport star? Only time will tell and right now, the 20-year-old has plenty of it on his side.