Amna Al Qubaisi: The young icon of Arab motorsport
A chat with Amna Al Qubaisi, the Emirati teenager that is challenging gender stereotypes and has become the young icon of Arab motorsport.
Italian Formula 4 season heads towards the final rounds after the Imola weekend, as the championship made its return after a month-long summer break. With a line-up of more than 30 cars by some of the most important European junior teams, the Abarth powered series is probably one of the most competitive F4 championships of the whole racing scenario today, featuring some of the highest-profiles F1 junior teams hopefuls.
In the mid-field of this competitive grid, young Amna Al Qubaisi was protagonist of a notable performance last round in Imola with her first seasonal top-15.
First Arab female driver to compete internationally and daughter of experienced GT driver Khaled Al Qubaisi, Amna stood out for the progresses she has made during her second year of singles-seater racing.
“Amna started with relatively small experience as last year she did not competed in all rounds and this series is like a World Championship, where you find all the best young drivers, the ones that are aiming at Formula 1.” – explained Andrea Piccini, Amna’s team manager in the Abu Dhabi Racing team by Prema.
“Being in the top-15 like she did with her best seasonal finish is certainly a notable result. Amna, most of all, has made a lot of progresses in the wheel-to-wheel action, as here it’s very common not just lap after lap, but corner after corner. Here you have drivers racing side by side like they’re on touring cars. So Amna definitely improved performance-wise, but also in the close battles with others.” – he added.
Together with her sister Hamda, the “Al Qubaisi Sisters” have now become real icons of the Arab sport world: this is why, if they can inspire the next generations of Arab girls, their successes will go well beyond racetrack results.
We had the chance to sat down with the incredibly kind 19-year old Amna during her latest race weekend in Imola:
“At the beginning I didn’t think I could reach this far in motorsports, but now I see myself here and hopefully I see myself going further in the future.”
Racers: This is your second campaign in Formula 4: we’re still in the middle of the season, but how would you rate your second year?
Amna: I would say that I made some progresses despite not having a lot of track experience or the same milage in terms of test days compared to other drivers. So, so far, I think it’s quite well.
We do plan to do more testing but as you know it really depends on the budget. So we have to see if it’s feasible.
R: Tell us a little bit more about the start of your career. Where does your passion for motor racing come from? I’d assume your father’s experience surely played a part.
A: I started when I was 15 years old, I saw my father racing and then I took interest in the sport. I started karting back home in the Country and then I started racing in Europe and I got top-5 and fastest laps. Then it started to become more of a career, and last minute I got the sponsorship with Kaspersky Lab. At the beginning I didn’t think I could reach this far in motorsports, but now I see myself here and hopefully I see myself going further in the future.
R: At the Red Bull Ring you raced alongside your sister Hamda, just like you did for several years in karting. How is it to be team-mates with siblings?
A: In karting we were very competitive towards each other. I remember when we did shifter karts together and we took first and second position, but we always fought on track, with close battles between us two. We have different types of driving style, I’m more aggressive and she’s more smooth, so we always learn from each other a bit.
R: Do you help each other or she’s just a competitor like any other?
A: No, we do help each other, we give each other tips, how we take corners together…we do help each other on track. Also my father, he comes to my races sometimes, when he doesn’t have work. But even when he has work, he watches online and sends me tips. He texts me “good job, you could improve this sector…”, you know how fathers are, they always try to push you to do well.
R: What are your long term goals? Where do you see yourself in motorsport?
A: Hopefully in Formula three. The FIA Formula 3 is the next step after F4, so hopefully if we have enough sponsors we can reach this level of motorsports.
R: You also drove the Formula E car in Riyadh. How is it to drive that car, did you like it?
A: It was very different, a whole new world. I did like it, obviously there’s no vibration because of the engine so it was very easy and smooth to drive and it felt quite light and nice to drive. Very much different from what I am used to. I think that Formula E is the future now, especially since they’re racing inside the cities so they get more exposure and more people coming to watch the races. So I think if I had the chance I would go for Formula E.
R: What do you think about the W-Series and the success it had this past season?
A: Honestly I don’t really have any comment about it, but it’s good for track milage. I was going to do it, but last minute I couldn’t do it for school and university commitments.
Amna, in fact, is not just a prominent figure of the Emirati sports world. She is currently completing a degree in Physics at Sorbonne University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Her well-educated English accent betrays that behind the reserved teenager hides the profile of a young woman with an international education but always proud of her roots.
A: It really means a lot to represent my Country here, it really is a huge step forward, especially because we haven’t had any female Arabs competing in the highest level of motorsport. Now we see one Saudi Arabian in the British F4 [Reema Juffali, ed.], now it’s starting to go global and hopefully we see more and it wouldn’t be as rare as we see now.
I have a lot of support from my Country, they empower me, they support me and always post about me. Back home they do support what I’m doing.
People do comment about it being rare, so when they see a girl they always congratulate her, but you know, sometimes a female driver herself gets upset when she think she’s not doing that well. Competing against boys shouldn’t really be a huge deal: when we put our helmet on we’re all considered by our race numbers, not by our gender.
R: What would you suggest to youngsters, not necessarily only females, willing to be involved in motorsport?
A: I suggest them to go for it, to go to their nearest karting track as that’s always motorsport’s first steps to single-seaters. Go to karting, do well and hopefully if you get sponsorship you can get to the next level.
R: Obviously funding is always the most difficult aspect, we can’t deny it. In Formula 4 and Formula 3 there are a lot of very young drivers that have to approach big companies and sponsors from a very early age. What was your experience in this regard?
A: I’d say just push for it, don’t let people pull you down by their comments and instead use them as motivation to push harder and prove them wrong.
R: The FIA is trying to facilitate the access to women in motorsport through several projects and programs. Do you think that what’s been done today is enough to potentially reach a numerical parity?
A: I think the main part is helping fund women’s career: most females don’t even have the chance because of money. Also, if they could offer more testing days, on any car, it doesn’t matter, as more track time is always very helpful. But the FIA is doing very well, they did the FIA Women’s programme in Navarra and I was part of that. It was very good, I had the experience of driving a GT car and also a Formula Renault. I never had that chance, so it was a really good experience.
“Competing against boys shouldn’t really be a huge deal: when we put our helmet on we’re all considered by our race numbers, not by our gender."
Ph credits: Racers-Behindthehelmet.com