F3 Asia: positive weekend for Sidorkova, unfortunate round for Al Qubaisi
In the Asian F3 Championship fourth round at Dubai, Irina Sidorkova had some positive results despite the injured hand, while it was not Amna Al Qubaisi's weekend, who also sprained her wrist in a collision.
The 2021 Asian F3 championship entered its crucial phases in Dubai as the series contested its fourth round in three weeks, with a world-class field of experienced formula drivers fighting for the title.
Racing on the 5.39km Dubai Autodrome were also Amna Al Qubaisi and Irina Sidorkova, the two young ladies continuing to make progress in their rookie F3 campaigns. 17-year old Sidorkova returned to the track after missing the three races of Round 3 due to a hand injury, picked up in a collision in Race 1 of Round 2 at Yas Marina Circuit when the steer snapped away from the hands of the young Russian following wheel-to-wheel contact with another driver.
After the pre-event test day, Sidorkova tweeted: "The hand is slightly sore to feel it in high-speed turns, but I can handle it".
Amna Al Qubaisi had a pace-wise positive yet unfortunate round at Yas Marina, where she was often crashed out of the races by fellow competitors while in promising positions. She had climbed as high as 12th in the second race, before finishing P14 after a contact with Alessio Deledda.
On Friday qualifying, Zhou topped Q1, ahead of new championship leader Pierre Louis Chovet, Ayumu Iwasa and Jehan Daruvala. Front-runners Isack Hadjar and Dino Beganovic left the championship.
Amna Al Qubaisi was P18, just ahead of her father and GT legend Khaled Al Qubaisi - in what was a first in F3 racing. Irina Sidorkova would qualify just above in P17.
Frenchman Chovet stormed into the lead at Turn 1, but Zhou immediately responded back. They preceded Patrik Pasma - protagonist of a perfect start off the line from seventh - Iwasa, Daruvala and Faria. Sidorkova moved up one place, as Al Qubaisi held her position.
The unlucky season continued for Mumbai Flacon's Kush Maini, who pulled into the pits after just one lap with more technical gremlins.
The leading pair tried to build a gap: Zhou, after setting the fastest lap, maintained the gap under half a second, but couldn't threaten Chovet. They were instead caught by Pasma, who really set the timing screen on fire and started to put pressure on the Formula 2 racer and Alpine F1 Team development driver.
Al Qubaisi passed Deledda for P18 with 16 minutes to go with a bold move. The Italian tried to fight back, but Amna shutted the door. She would later hand back the position after another heated battle. Sidorkova meanwhile had surrendered 16th to Marinangeli.
More battles played out in the midfield - Turkish esports superstar Cem Bolukbasi fought hard with Roy Nissany, the latter ultimately making the move stick after several position swaps.
Crucially, Kush Maini was sent out on track despite being several laps down. The Indian made the most out of the new tyres and signed the fastest lap of the race, which earned him pole position for Race 2.
The Safety Car interrupted the action with 3 minutes left on the clock: Villagomez had just found his way past Bardinon, when the two were involved in an incident along with Lorenzo Fluxa. The race, stripped of its climactic finale, ended behind the pace car.
Pierre-Louis Chovet took home the win, ahead of Guanyu Zhou and Patrik Pasma, as the Finn from Evans GP was set to clinch his first podium of the season. A post-race penalty would later demote him to fourth though, as Ayumu Iwasa stepped on the podium.
Sidorkova was 16th across the line despite her painful wrist, but she also was moved up to 15th after Roberto Faria's five second penalty. Amna Al Qubaisi took the chequered flag in P18.
Kush Maini started for the first time on pole position, alongside Pasma. Due to technical difficulties Alexandre Bardinon had to take the green light from the pitlane, while there were more problems for both Daruvala and Bolukbasi who stalled on the grid and had to catch up with the rest of the pack.
Maini was attacked by Pasma under braking at Turn 1, but the Indian held on. Zhou, third after the opening corners, quickly had to defend from the charge of Chovet. F2 driver and Williams junior Roy Nissany took advantage of the battle for third and jumped ahead of both racers, in a really impressive move for the Israeli. However, this played in favor of Maini and Pasma, as they were able to extend their lead by over three seconds.
One lap into the race, Irina Sidorkova found herself P17 - having started 19th - just ahead of Amna Al Qubaisi. Unfortunately, the two ladies of F3 Asia came together on the second lap, when the Emirati 20-year old driver attempted a move for 17th.
"Went for an overtake but got hit as I already made the move.", wrote Amna.
"Sprained my arm with the steering wheel but I think it’s still doable to race tomorrow hopefully".
The accident left Amna's #88 Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema Tatuus car stranded in the middle of Turn 11, triggering the Safety Car.
The lengthy interruption saw the race resuming with 14 minutes left: Nissany started to put pressure on the leading pair, as Iwasa and Faria made contact and pitted.
With the battle for the victory more heated than ever, Pasma went on top on lap 7, also opening a gap to Nissany that dived on the inside of Maini, ultimately crashing into the #28 Mumbai Falcon car. The Safety Car was quickly deployed again, as both driver climbed furiously out of their cars.
Amidst all the chaos, Pasma led Zhou, Chovet and series newcomer David Vidales (Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema). Sidorkova avoided further trouble and advanced to P14.
The race ended again under neutralization and Pasma, after being denied his first podium on Friday, claimed his maiden Asian F3 victory.
Zhou and Iwasa lined up on the front row of the grid for Race 3 on Sunday morning, preceding Chovet and Pasma on second row.
Irina Sidorkova took the start from P18, while Amna Al Qubaisi, following a problem in the second qualifying session, was 21st.
There was drama straight from the green lights, as both Zhou and Iwasa barely got off the line and saw Chovet, Vidales and Pasma - just as most of the grid - firing past.
Maini pulled a great move on Bolukbasi in the opening stages, with also the other Mumbai Falcon driver Jehan Daruvala eyeing an opportunity to recover from an uncompetitive weekend.
On lap 2, Amna Al Qubaisi went off at Turn 9 and made contact with the inside barrier. Despite the heavy impact, she was out of the car under her own power, escaping injuries.
The accident brought out the Safety Car and ended Al Qubaisi's unfortunate weekend at Dubai.
The green flag was waved back with 20 minutes left: Vidales had a perfect restart, but Chovet defended the top of the classify. But the action was soon neutralized again when Daruvala and Bolukbasi crashed, involving also the Pinnacle Motorsport's car of Alexandre Bardinon who had nowhere to go. The accident brought out the red flag in order to clear the track from the stranded vehicles.
It was then a sprint 15-minute race to the chequered flag: David Vidales had another great reaction, but not enough to worry championship leader Chovet, as the latter signed off.
Zhou was protagonist of an outstanding recovery after the disastrous start and moved up to sixth place.
There was more chaos in the midfield: Sidorkova - who had restarted from P15 - lost out to Bolukbasi and Deledda, but just in front more battles emerged as Iwasa, Marinangeli and Fluxa constantly swapped positions.
While Ushijima passed teammate Nissany, Guanyu Zhou was on a mission and sprinted past Maini and Faria to claim fourth.
Pierre-Louis Chovet masterfully managed a hectic third race and took the chequered flag to win his sixth race of the championship, ahead of Vidales and Pasma.
Zhou was forth - completing a recovery from 14th - and Faria had his best result of the season with the fifth place.
Irina Sidorkova crossed the line in P17, preceding Khaled Al Qubaisi.
Despite the injury, the Russian lady had a positive weekend that gained her the best result of the season, as the series will now move to Yas Marina Circuit for the final weekend of the 2021 season in a week time.