Formula 3 rookies Amna Al Qubaisi and Irina Sidorkova completed positive debuts in the outstandingly competitive 2021 F3 Asian Championship opening round at Dubai.
F3 Asian Championship saw the green light for the first time in 2021 with its season opener at Dubai Autodrome, the first out of the five back to back rounds to be held exclusively in the UAE. In its world-class entry list, many of the top up-and-coming racing drivers decided to enter the Asian F3 regional championship in 2021, in preparation for their European campaigns. Among them, two very young and talented ladies: Russian Irina Sidorkova will make the most out of this winter series before making her W Series debut later this year, and home star Amna Al Qubaisi, who returns to the driving seat after a one-year stop caused by the pandemic, also making her Formula 3 race debut after becoming the first Arab woman to ever win a single seater race.
When the cars hit the track, Amna Al Qubaisi met a challenging start of the weekend due to technical issues that forced the 20-year old Emirati to sit out the first practice and relegated the Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema driver to the 21st grid slot in Q1, valid for the first race starting grid - just ahead of Sidorkova, who had made quite an impressive progress after her first steps in the Tatuus T-318 F3 car, run by Evans GP Team Oloi.
Japenese Formula 2 star Guanyu Zhou was the undisputed pacesetter in all practice sessions, took pole position and dominated in convincing style the first race of the weekend, leading the pack from start to chequered flag. Behind him, it was really interesting battle for the other podium spots between fellow F2 racers Roy Nissany and Jehan Daruvala. Starting from the first row, Pierre-Louis Chovet was forced to a charging action after a difficult start. While Zhou open a gap that would allow him to win the race with a seven-second gap, Nissany and Daruvala fought for the runner-up place - until they had to defend from the return of Chovet. In his Formula 3 debut, Dino Beganovic was also one of the positive surprises at the end of Race 1: starting from seventh, the young Swede managed to catch up with the Formula 2 drivers' trio and joined a strong four-car battle in the final stages. Nevertheless, no position changed up until the chequered flag, as Nissany and Daruvala completed the podium. With a very strong start, Amna Al Qubaisi recovered five places from her qualifying position and managed a very solid race to finish 16th. " I'm so happy with the pace today with a P16 in Race 1." - she wrote. "Being in the car for the first time in a year, then straight into this race weekend is really challenging but always pushing the limit" - added Amna on her social media feeds. Irina Sidorkova was also protagonist of a great getaway off the line at the start and advanced to P20. Throughout the rest of the first race, Irina battled with Luethen and ultimately made the move stick on the German on lap 16, before crossing the finish line in P19. There was drama early on in the second race when Kush Maini's Mumbai Falcon car came to a halt just before the green lights for a technical issue; a very disappointing moment for the Indian who would have started alongside Zhou on the front row. The Renault F1 test driver once again had a good start and led the whole race unchallenged, followed by Abu Dhabi's ny Prema teammate Beganovic who had taken advantage from Maini's early retirement to advance to second place. Evans GP driver Isack Hadjar stole the scene with a strong performance and was able to move into the final podium spot after starting from fifth. The French racer, also stepping up from F4 machinery, came very close to Beganovic in his quest to grab second, but the Swedish Prema driver defended his position and crossed the finish line 2 seconds behind double race winner Zhou. Amna Al Qubaisi's second race unfortunately ended on lap one, when a contact with Rafael Villagomez took both the drivers off. Both retired and the Safety car was called out.
Irina Sidorkova brought home another P19 after another clean race.
Roman Stanek was also in contention for the top-positions, but retired on lap 10 after an accident that damaged the front-right suspension of his #11 Hitech F3 car. Irina Sidorkova claimed the best performance of her weekend: after a strong start, she moved up to P15 from 21th. The 17-year old Russian fell behind Daruvala and dropped to P17, but in the finals laps she managed to pass both Luethen and Stevenson, conquering a top-15 finish in her first experience at the the wheel of a Formula 3 car. "The first round of the Asian Formula 3 is over, I can say that it was not easy,” said the SMP Racing-backed driver. - "All the rivals are very strong: here there are guys from the high formula series - Formula 2, Formula 3. It's hard enough to fight them, but the harder thing is in qualifying, it's a bit easier in the battle." "I can note that during this round we had very progressive results: from one test day to the next, we improved the times and so on. And I am especially pleased that at the end of the first round, in the third race, we managed to get the fifteenth position. My coach from SMP Racing, Vladimir Atoev, and I are very pleased with this result and are now maximally focused on a good performance at the second round in Abu Dhabi", she concluded. Emirati star Amna Al Qubaisi had a difficult final race after a first lap issue, but lapped competitively and showed glimpses of promising speed throughout the weekend. The older of the Al Qubaisi's sisters, after dropping to 19th, was able to recover one position in race 3, but received a 5-second time penalty for the Race 2 incident. Round 2 of the F3 Asian Championship will see the drivers and teams moving to the Yas Marina F1 Circuit in Abu Dhabi on February 4-6.