Al Qubaisi sisters impress at first round of Formula Regional Asia
In a superb race for both the Al Qubaisi sisters, Hamda was P12 at her F3 racing debut, fifth among the rookies; Amna pulled off a great recovery and equalled her best F3 result, finishing P14.
Formula Regional championships have become so highly competitive in the past couple of years that such series are arguably now on par with the FIA Formula 3 championship, the third tier single-seater racing on the F1 support bill. In Europe, Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, after its merge with Formula Renault Eurocup, gave birth to one of the most tightly fought feeder series worldwide - and its Asian counterpart, the rebranded Formula Regional Asian Championship, is surely following this path. The series, previously known as F3 Asia, has attracted most of the drivers that will go on to compete in either FIA F3 and FRECA, keen on getting the most out of their winter preparation and to collect valuable Super Licence points. The 2022 star-studded grid of 27 cars include Ferrari Academy drivers Arthur Leclerc and DIno Beganovic, Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar, Gabriele Minì, Gabriel Bortoleto, Paul Aron, F2 racer Cem Bolukbasi, Euroformula champion Jak Crawford, as well as a series of highly anticipated rookie Sebastian Montoya. Among them, Al Qubaisi sisters Hamda and Amna hit the track in the #88 and #99 Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema machines: it was Hamda's very first racing weekend at the wheel of a F3 car, while for Amna it's a welcome return after the 2021 Asian F3 champaign. Both have competed in the highly competitive Italian F4 - Amna in 2018 and 2019, while her younger sister in 2020 and 2021, with remarkable results. Stepping up to F3, Hamda's Formula 4 career really put her on the radar of international motorsport, having taken 6 victories and 19 podiums in the UAE-based series and an additional podium and 27 points in F4 Italy. Amna's career has been equally impressive so far: the first female racing driver from the UAE took an historic victory at the 2019 F4 Trophy Round at the Abu Dhabi F1 GP; unfortunately, she hasn't had much track time since then, and briefly returned behind the wheel only one year ago for a handful of races, having sat out the 2020 season. Despite the limited mileage in F3, Amna had a promising debut in 2021 and will look to build on that in 2022. On Friday, Hamda had two solid qualifying sessions and put the #88 car in P18 in both sessions. Her sister Amna was P21 and P23 respectively, in a very tight 27-car grid. Sebastian Montoya (Mumbai Falcons) and Gabriele Minì (Hitech GP) took pole positions, as the Colombian rookie preceded the two Red Bull junior drivers Jak Crawford and Isack Hadjar on the grid of Race 1. At lights out, Jak Crawford stalled on the grid and dropped all the way down the order, while Sbastian Montoya pulled away with a good launch. Further down, Khaled Al Qubaisi had a stunning getaway and gained several positions, but his daughters Hamda and Amna also made up one position each. In the action-packed first laps, positions changed constantly in the midfield: Hamda and Amna continued to climb the order in elbows-out battles, until the Safety Car was promptly deployed when Nicola Marinangeli (Evans GP) made contact with Oliver Goethe (3Y Technology by R-ace GP) and the latter lost a rear wheel that bounced across the track, luckily avoiding every incoming car. The race resumed with 20 minutes left on the clock and Montoya had his mirrors full of Hadjar. The battle allowed Leclerc and Minì to close in. The Monegasque was able to sneak ahead of Hadjar - who then lost out to Minì as well in a matter of corners. Meanwhile, Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi had recovered to P15 and P17, gaining three and four places respectively until the Safety Car intervention. After a brilliant 3-wide fight for position, Hamda moved into 12th place, followed by Amna in 14th, the latter having battled closely with Revesz and Iwasaki. Unfortunately, the race was halted once again by a Safety Car when Aron crashed into the barriers following contact with Pepe Marti. Both were out of the race. Meanwhile, Minì had passed Leclerc for second place, but Montoya's leadership was preserved when the race ended behind neutralization - handing Mumbai Falcons and Sebastian Montoya their first wins in the series. Minì and Leclerc rounded out the first podium of the season, followed by Hadjar, Beganovic and Fluxa. Fornaroli was eighth at F3 debut and finished ahead of Joshua Dufek and Gabriel Bortoleto, who both scored points. Hamda Al Qubaisi was P12 in a superb debut at the doorsteps of the point-scoring positions. She was fifth among the rookie. "That was fun!" - wrote Hamda, "P12 overall and P5 rookie on my Formula Regional Asian debut, it was possible to get a top 10 however I’m really happy with the progress so far", she recapped. Amna Al Qubaisi put on a brilliant fight to recover to P14, in one of her best F3 races to date and equalling her 2021 best result. "Getting back into the rhythm after a year", wrote Amna. "P14 for Race 1 and slowly getting more and more comfortable." Their father Khaled Al Qubaisi was P16 and took victory in the Masters class. Two more races will be contested on Sunday, with a reverse-grid race going green at 10:55 and Race 3 scheduled for 14:40 (all times local). Bortoleto and Dufek are thus expected to line up from the front row, followed by Fornaroli and Lubin. Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi will start from the 6th and 7th row.