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Nabil Jeffri: F1's youngest whiz kid

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • Sixteen-year-old Malaysian becomes Formula One's youngest-ever test driver
  • Nabil Jeffri conducted straight-line aero test for Lotus Racing at runway in UK in September
  • Lotus F1 team boss impressed with Jeffri's "character" and "aptitude"

London, England (CNN) -- For most teenagers, driving a Formula One car is nothing more than an improbable dream.

Not for 16-year-old Nabil Jeffri.

The Malaysian recently became the youngest test driver in Formula One history when he drove a Lotus T127 on a runway at the UK's Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

"It was unbelievable," Jeffri said of his 1.5-kilometer straight-line aero test.

"It's super fast. You can't even see a thing. The acceleration and the braking are very different," Jeffri added.

Less than a year ago, Jeffri was sitting behind the wheel of a go-kart back in Malaysia, when he caught the eye of Lotus Racing's team boss, Tony Fernandes. CNN is a sponsor of the Lotus team.

At the time, Jeffri was searching for sponsorship to enter Formula BMW (a single seater racing class for juniors). The teenager impressed Fernandes so much that he made him an offer on the spot.

"I can see that he has the right character, the right aptitude and the right intellectual level to go very far," Fernandes told CNN.

"He's got a very good down-to-earth nature about himself. And I think humility is a key ingredient in dealing with success."

"I can see that he has the right character, the right aptitude and the right intellectual level to go very far"
--Tony Fernandes, Lotus Racing team boss

Despite the attention his record-breaking drive has attracted, Jeffri, who started racing go-karts when he was eight years old, is keen to serve his apprenticeship.

"I don't want to rush things. I'm only 16 years old. I just want to do well in my Formula BMW. If things go well, I can be a Formula One driver soon."

He's set his sights on securing a Formula One drive by the time he is 21. And he thinks he can win the world title by the time he's 23 years old -- the same age Lewis Hamilton was when he became Formula One's youngest-ever world champion in 2008.

The McLaren driver, who currently leads the 2010 drivers' championship, is Jeffri's hero.

"I think I have a lot of similarities with him. He's a very aggressive driver and I think I am also. He wants to win all the time, and so do I," he said.

Jeffri is currently part of the AirAsia ASEAN driver development program, which Fernandes set up to nurture young talent in Asia.

As well as bringing the Lotus brand back to Formula One, Fernandes wants to use his involvement in the sport to give young people in Malaysia and Southeast Asia the confidence to believe that they can become world champions.

"Not just as drivers, but in CFD [Computational Fluid Dynamics which test aerodynamics] or as engineers," Fernandes said.

The AirAsia boss has certainly made a flying start with Jeffri.

"Finding a talent like Nabil so early is fantastic. I know my people, and they were genuinely impressed with this kid."