F1 Academy: Hamda Al Qubaisi scores back-to-back pole positions in Zandvoort
Hamda is back with a vengeance: in two tightly contested qualifying sessions at Zandvoort, the Emirati claimed her first pole positions of the season in F1 Academy - while her sister Amna will start from reverse grid pole in Race 2.
A sunny Zandvoort welcomed the drivers in an early start of the day, with qualifying 1 going green at 08:00 local time. Léna Bühler and Hamda Al Qubaisi were the first to post lap times on the board – the two drivers had led the first and second practice yesterday and were looking to continue the trend on Saturday. Hamda Al Qubaisi improved with an already significantive 1:37.134 on her second timed lap, followed by her sister Amna when the red flag was deployed for the stricken ART GP Tatuus of Chloe Grant, who had gone deep in the gravel in the second sector. Grant had a very solid Friday finishing fourth in FP2 – but will have some work to do in the first and second race of the weekend to recover from the back. The session was back to green with four minutes left on the clock – and with 7 drivers yet to post a lap time. With two purple sectors, Hamda Al Qubaisi recorded the fastest lap of the weekend, with a 1:36.572 that put the Emirati almost half a second clear of Bühler and Marta García – as the championship leader moved into the front running positions. Emely de Heus was also looking for a start from the front rows and slotted into fourth, ahead of Amna Al Qubaisi and Bianca Bustamante. With the fastest second sector overall, though, Nerea Martí was able to snatch fourth, three thousandths from García. The two Valencian then traded places when Martí could further improve by 6 hundredths in her final attempt, demoting de Heus who had briefly taken third. At the end of a tightly contested first qualifying, Hamda Al Qubaisi secured her first pole position of the season – and will start race 1 alongside Léna Bühler. The two drivers have been the fastest so far at the technical Zandvoort circuit and we can expect a thrilling battle in the races. Nerea Martí and Marta García will share the second row, as Emely de Heus continues to be very fast after her maiden pole position in Barcelona and will line up alongside Jessica Edgar on row 3. Seventh and eighth fastest were Carrie Schreiner and Amna Al Qubaisi – who crucially bags the reverse pole position for Race 2. The Emirati has already won two reverse grid races so far and will be a tough competitor to beat.
"In Q1 we were unlucky on my fastest lap, had a red flag and P8 it was since the tyres were gone", Amna said. "I'm quite happy - my sister starts in pole in race 1 and I start on pole in race 2." Despite the limited track time on Friday due to a shortened practice, Bianca Bustamante had found the top five in FP2; the Filipina will start from ninth in the first two races, having missed the reverse grid pole by 0.098 of a second. The competition in the midfield is going to be fierce, as Megan Gilkes, Lola Lovinfosse, Abbi Pulling and Chloe Chong all follow at the shortest margins. Pulling – one of the few drivers with previous experience in formula cars at Zandvoort – was steadily in the top three on Friday, but the Carlin star will have to recover from P12. Having run in fourth place in the first half of the session, Chloe Grant's mistake was costly, as the Scottish driver dropped to P14, ahead of Maite Caceres. The Uruguayan, though, was 1.6 second faster than her Friday time. A few minutes later, the second qualifying session was underway and Maite Caceres set the early pace. Times started to drop and Hamda Al Qubaisi set the first 1:36 lap – soon topped by Léna Bühler's 1:36.262, a new reference for the weekend. Emely de Heus slotted behind, over 4 tenths adrift. In an incredible battle for pole, Léna Bühler and Hamda Al Qubaisi set the first below-1:36 laps, separated by 36 thousands: Al Qubaisi brought herself back into provisional pole, seconds before a red flag with 2 minutes to go put an end to the session: Marta García had gone off and beached her Prema machine while in fourth position. Her 1:35.926 was therefore enough to grant Hamda Al Qubaisi a back-to-back pole position, once again alongside Sauber junior Léna Bühler. Emely de Heus confirmed the great shape of the MP Motorsport squad in their home race and will start from third place in Race 3.
"Yesterday we didn't put the new tyre so it was difficult to understand the grip in the first quali but I still managed to get the pole", Hamda explained. "In the second one it was all about adapting from the first one - and it was even better, so I'm really happy about it."
"This track is amazing, every corner. It's very physical and I'm really happy to get the pole here in Zandvoort: it means a lot for the team and also for me."
Al Qubaisi is recovering from a arm injury and the physical nature of the track was yet another challenge for Hamda, who has been battling through pain since the start of the season. "With the banked corner it's really difficult, I struggled a lot in the last laps but I tried to push through", she said. "For the race for sure it's going to be difficult but we just have to deal with the pain until after."
Marta García will have a chance to defend her points gap from the second row, in what is looking like a slightly less confident weekend for the Prema Racing team so far. Jessica Edgar had another strong session in fifth and edged Nerea Martí just outside the top five. Chloe Grant recovered from her difficult first session with a seventh place and will share the fourth row with Prema's Bianca Bustamante. Despite an off-track moment in the closing stages in Q2, Megan Gilkes was ninth and will battle for points, as Lola Lovinfosse rounds out the top ten. In a very difficult qualifying, Abbi Pulling was eleventh and will have to charge from the back in all three races, despite a strong Friday for the British talent. Carrie Schreiner – who had a spin in her fastest lap – and Chloe Chong will start from P12 and P13 and will also be in the fight for points; on the final row, an unlucky Amna Al Qubaisi was caught out by the red flag in her timed lap. Maite Caceres continued to make big progress at every session, with a 3.3 second improvement from her first practice on Friday and half a second from her Q1 benchmark. The first race of the weekend is scheduled for 16:30 local time on Saturday. Will it be an Al Qubaisi vs Bühler contest?