Young Veteran with a Vision
We sat Jazeman down at the iconic Federal Hotel that is synonymous with Merdeka for this ‘Malaysian’ issue. Being a child prodigy in motorsports racing and having earned trophies and titles since the age of 6, we chatted with Jazeman 20 years after his debut on his extensive journey, and recent appointment as executive director of Sepang International Circuit. And for Jazeman, the fuel for his love for the motorsports industry has not run out yet.
RELATIONSHIP WITH RACING: 20 YEARS ON THE TRACK
Hello Jazeman, it has been 20 years since your journey with speed started. How do you feel about this milestone?
I feel proud! It has been quite a roller coaster ride so far. I’ve enjoyed every single bit of the journey since I started as a hobby at 6 years old and now as a professional career. The triumphs have been significant, especially being one of the few Malaysians – and Asians – rising to the top in this field. So, it’s been an honour.
How has your relationship with speed changed now from the age of 6?
I love it more and more. The adrenaline keeps me addicted to it and it is hard to live without it. I just want to keep having more of it and improve more when I compete.
You met PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed at the age of 7. Has he influenced you in any way to being a professional racing driver?
Yes, I would say so. The first time I met him was when Alex Yoong was in Formula 1 and he was doing his test drives in Sepang. I then met him again the second time at Alex’s launch of becoming a Formula 1 driver. One of Tun’s words to me was, “I truly hope to see you grow up to be a champion one day.” And 20 years on, we crossed paths again when I received the “International Racing Driver of the Year” title, which Tun himself presented to me.
That’s fantastic! Who inspires you?
On track, it would be the late Ayrton Senna. But off track, it would be my late father. They had their own principles and disciplines that had guided and inspired me to be the person I am today.
What kind of role model are you to your followers?
I think I’ve achieved quite a bit at my age (of 26), knowing that nothing is impossible. So, being a role model at this point of my career is unfair to say, as it is still on-going, and I want to achieve more and inspire more by the end of my career.
ON SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT AND THE INDUSTRY…
Congratulations on your appointment to the Sepang International Circuit board of directors. What do you intent to bring with the appointment?
Thank you. More developments are needed to grow the industry and to nurture more talents. We do have the talents but the platforms for them to go further have been a bit stagnant. Two-wheels has had its own self-sustainable eco system, but four-wheels needs a certain direction for our talents to go further in their career. So, I want more programmes and development to further them, and bringing in more manufacturers for talents to have a career.
How do you feel now that the Sepang Grand Prix isn’t on the F1 calendar anymore?
I’m saddened, to be honest. It was such an iconic event, and one that put Malaysia on the world map of international Formula One racing, and in the eyes of the world. But of course the cost to make it sustainable is not small, especially now with our economic situation. But I hope to see it back one day. Otherwise, being in the motorsport scene, there are also other international events that we could host to bring a positive spillover to the country.
It may be hard for young enthusiasts to see a future in motorsports, as F1 is out of the picture now in Malaysia. What do you have to tell the young and hopeless?
Never stop chasing the dream. If you have the dream to becoming a driver, fight for it! There are ways to get there – it is the 21st century now, and we have many more platforms compared to when I first started. The motorsports industry is more than just about becoming a race driver if you want to be a part of it. You can also become an engineer, a team owner, a mechanic, marketer, or even a facility operator on the sports site as well, and the list goes on. The avenue of motorsports is so broad that it gives opportunities and options to anyone.
Would you say it is easier for them to grow this dream overseas than in Malaysia now?
I wouldn’t say easy is the right word, because everyone needs to prove themselves in such a competitive environment. But if I can accomplish this much and get this far, I’m sure that other hopeful Malaysians can achieve the same too.
PM Tun Dr Mahathir recently announced his interest in bringing back the Grand Prix. Do you think Malaysia is ready to host the Grand Prix again soon?
We have to host it knowing that the positive spillover and opportunities are there. We can’t just see it as entertainment once a year. It has to be seen as though the manufacturers are looking to invest and build that hype for Malaysia, so that it will create more jobs. I see it back in the near future, but with a better blueprint to make it more self-sustainable.
In the 90’s, Malaysia was one of the market leaders in Asia for motorsports, having 3 functioning racetracks. How can we make motorsports in Malaysia great again, especially in the four-wheels category?
Motorsports is not cheap because of the research and development that goes into these cars – the business behind it is bigger than what people think. We have great local talents that can produce materials and products that are sought-after by foreign countries, so the trade deals with manufacturers abroad give us exposure. But sometimes there is always a limiting factor of how far they want to go. But the way I see it, the sky is the limit, so we ought push ourselves to go as far as possible and make it grow globally. Looking at it from the SIC standpoint, I think having more racetracks to build an ecosystem that is friendlier and more affordable would lift up the standards.
The earth is going green, and it is often talked about how the future of motorsports is in electric cars. What do you think?
We can’t run away from it, unfortunately. I think it is still a learning process for everyone in the industry. We also need to understand why we are headed in such direction – it is not about just changing the infrastructure and creating plugs to charge cars, but about knowing how efficient the emissions are and how much we’re saving energy and impacting the planet. So, to know why you’re doing it is more important than the big switch to electric cars. But I do believe it is the future, and even sports cars and motor racing are heading towards that direction, and we are already developing cars in that direction. So I see Malaysia heading that way.
Are you making any efforts in regards to that?
I am personally interested in the technology side of it. I have had meetings to educate and getting the right people to do it, which takes time, but Sepang is definitely the first platform to get it done in Malaysia.
UK sets the golden standard for motorsports. What can we do to propel the local motorsports industry to that level?
The ecosystem in UK has been right since day 1, naturally making it a breeding ground for talents. Eighty percent of F1 is based in the UK, and the circle is small. I was based in the UK for 9 years, and I could see how the training, learning and engineering elements were all connected to each other. Being in the circle helps being nurtured by the right people and environment. So, I would like to see Malaysia having that ‘circle’, because our manufacturing is one of the biggest and strongest in the region. We have to also introduce more of the motorsport side of the industry so that people can use it for exposure, not just for the talents but also for the market.
Since this is our ‘Malaysian’ issue, what makes you feel ‘Malaysian most’?
The fact that I’m a foodie (laughs). It doesn’t matter whether I travel to the east or west, I always crave for my fried rice, nasi lemak or banana leaf rice! Also, when I travel and people ask where I’m from, I’m always proud to tell them I’m Malaysian. As a Malaysian athlete, my proudest moment is when I’m on the podium holding the Malaysian flag. I feel very proud because it is only a handful that gets to go international. So, I want to keep that momentum going and wave the flag higher.
A day in the life of Jazeman is…
Go, go, go! My schedules always have me on the move, travelling here and there.
So, it is as fast as your sport?
(Laughs) I try to be as efficient as I can.
Lastly, we know you’re a big foodie. What is your breakfast of champions?
Varies from one another, depending on where I’m at – so from a full English breakfast to Nasi Lemak.
But if you have to choose one…
Nasi Lemak is the way to go.
Words by Sara Yeoh
Photographer: Barathan Amuthan @ Framesbybarathanamuthan
Hairstylist: Derek Tan @ Anagen
Make-Up: Kb Artistic Academy @ Kerry Beh
Venue: The Federal Kuala Lumpur
Additional Wardrobe: Boyce @ Topmaster Federal KL
Car Model: Rolls-Royce Cullinan
Car Distributor: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Kuala Lumpur
+03 7960 2333