When former Malaysian Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong, 41, got his “Super Licence”, he got the licence to drive the world’s fastest car – that’s at the incredible speed of up to 350kph, depending on the track.
For the uninitiated, a Super Licence is a qualification allowing the licence-holder to compete in the Formula One World Championship as a driver.
“F1 cars are the fastest in the world and the G force makes them very physical and demanding to drive. The concentration levels are nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. It’s the pinnacle of race car driving!” said Yoong, via WhatsApp from overseas.
Yoong is “obviously pleased” to have been in Formula 1 as it spelt “a dream come true” for him.
At the age of four, Yoong says he was “an avid follower of Formula 1”. And on his eighth birthday, Yoong was gifted with a Kawasaki 50cc motocross.
So when he finally became the first Malaysian to race in Formula 1 with Minardi at the 2001 Italian Grand Prix, it was all very special for him.
Yoong credits his family for having “a big impact” on him and says it was because of them that he “was able to get into this sport”. His Malaysian father, Hanifah Yoong Yin Fah, started racing sedans in 1978 and his mother, British expatriate Johanna Bean, was in rallying in 1983.
Yoong’s foray in F1 began when he was approached by Minardi sporting director Rupert Manwaring during one of the latter’s visits to Malaysia. He offered Yoong a F1 seat.
Yoong was the first Malaysian to participate in the F1, racing with Minardi in 2001 and 2002.
By July 5, 2001, Yoong obtained sponsorship money from Magnum Corporation. Later, he attended a two-day test at Mugello, a race track in Tuscany, Italy after the International Automobile Federation (FIA) granted him a Super Licence.
His F1 debut was at the Italian Grand Prix, when he replaced Brazilian racing driver Tarso Marques.
And he has worked with some of the best. In F1, Yoong’s teammate was Spanish racing driver Fernando Alonso (a double World Champion in 2005 and 2006). Alonso ended Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 reign (in 2005) and became the then-youngest champion (at age 24) in F1 history. The 36-year-old is often regarded as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers in the history of the sport.)
In 2002, Yoong had a new teammate, Australian Mark Webber, after Alonso left the team.
Yoong reminisces that working with both the drivers was memorable indeed: “Both were/are excellent drivers. Alonso is possibly the most naturally talented driver of his generation.”
Yoong started his career in saloon cars before moving into the Proton one-make series. He then moved on to race in single-seater cars, and won the Malaysian Championship in 1995.
In 1996, he was in Formula Renault but finished outside the top 10. After getting advice from his father, Yoong drove in Formula Three but dropped out in 1999 due to withdrawal from his sponsors. Next, he raced in Formula 3000 and Formula Nippon.
He then ventured into the CART World Series, then raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup and then, the V8 Supercars. Between 2005 and 2008, Yoong had three victories in his more successful A1 Grand Prix series. In between, he also raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours (2006-2007).
He used to be head of driver development for Lotus and Caterham F1, and has been an F1 pundit for 10 years with ESPN and now Fox Sports. Yoong still races for Audi customer racing and was the Audi R8 LMS Cup champion three years running from 2014 to 2016.
Asked what career he would have taken up in his younger days if motor sports didn’t come along, Yoong surmised he might have possibly taken up “something in sports.” After all, he said, he loves to compete.
Having had to race a lot overseas in his F1 career, Yoong said he has never taken for granted the very special privilege to race in front of those he loves and respects!
“Racing at home” at the Sepang International Circuit in 2002, before he left F1 racing, also meant a great deal to him. It was, in his words, “extra amazing”.