Saudi woman takes victory lap in Formula One car
Entrepreneur and board member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, Aseel al-Hamad, drove the Le Castellet Grand Prix circuit in the Renault Sport Formula 1 team car on Sunday, the same day her female compatriots took to the roads in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
"I have loved racing and motorsport from a very young age and to drive a Formula 1 car goes even beyond my dreams and what I thought was possible," she said.
"It is a genuine honour to drive the Renault Sport Formula One Team E20 car in front of the crowds at its home Grand Prix 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 spirit to dream."
The ultra-conservative kingdom was the last country in the world to lift the ban on women drivers in a major step towards social reform.
The change in the law came after a hard-fought campaign by activists demanding equality for women in the kingdom.
However, the reforms, spearheaded by Riyadh's defacto leader Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, have been marred by the arrest of at least 16 rights campaigners who were then branded "traitors" by Saudi state media.
Despite the crackdown, Saudi women on Sunday were jubilant, many getting in their cars after the stroke of midnight, blaring music, to mark the end of the ban.
Many women declared plans online to drive for coffee or ice cream, a mundane experience elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the kingdom.
"The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes," tweeted activist Hala al-Dosari, while lauding the jailed campaigners.
"I'm happy and relieved that... girls in Saudi will live a bit freer than their mothers."