In the F3 Asian series season finale at Abu Dhabi, Irina Sidorkova topped her best F3 result to date with a P12 in race 2, while Emirati star Amna Al Qubaisi lost a top-10 finish after running as high as eighth.
After a extraordinarily competitive Formula 3 Asian Championship, the 2021 season came to a close after this weekend's final three races at Abu Dhabi, following a 5-event back to back calendar entirely contested in the United Arab Emirates.
Coming from a very unlucky round 4 at Dubai Autodrome, Amna Al Qubaisi had a very promising pre-event testing on her home track at YAS Marina, where she was consistently within the top-15 and showed more improvements.
"Positive practice day today!" - she wrote. "Just needed to put it all together but all in all happy with the pace".
Russian teenager Irina Sidorkova, also making her F3 debut in the Asian F3 championship this year as she prepares for her W Series rookie campaign, racked up good mileage and entered the final weekend of racing targeting more progress.
On Friday morning, the two qualifying sessions saw title contender Guanyu Zhou (Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema) taking pole position ahead of Finnish racer Patrik Pasma (Evans GP). Jehan Daruvala was third fastest and was supposed to share the second row of the grid with Hitech's Roman Stanek, but the Mumbai Falcon's driver was demoted to sixth after a three place grid drop picked up at the final race in Dubai last week, when he made contact with Cem Bolukbasi.
Irina Sidorkova was P17, while Amna Al Qubaisi couldn't put her sectors together and started in 19th place.
Under the lights of Abu Dhabi's night, the first race of the weekend went underway on the GP track layout.
Zhou had a slow getaway and, despite pointing in the direction of Pasma and attempting to squeeze his rival, the Finn advanced into first place after Turn 1 and never looked back.
Stanek, Maini and Vidales followed the leading pair through the first lap, with Irina Sidorkova and Amna Al Qubaisi also having a good start and both making up one place each.
Championship leader Pierre-Louis Chovet, after a more challenging qualifying that saw the Pinnacle Motorsport driver only starting from seventh on the grid, battled with F2 driver Roy Nissany and, as they forced each other off during the opening lap, Chovet had to take the escape road into the Turn 8 chicane.
Fluxa, Faria and Bardinon all had early issues and pitted.
Chovet was instructed by the race direction to give up the position gained on Nissany and did so on lap 4. Meanwhile, his main title contender, right in the clutches of Formula Regional European Championship race-winner Pasma, was already several seconds up the field.
Amna Al Qubaisi found herself stuck behind the #99 Abu Dhabi Racing car of her father Khaled and, despite lapping faster, the 20-year old Emirati lady couldn't make a move stick, crucially losing precious time to the rest of the pack.
She would finally find a way past Khaled on lap 12, advancing into P17 and then improving her personal best time to a 2:09.491.
Zhou signed the fastest lap of the race - which granted him the pole position for Race 2 - but he was never at striking distance to try and attempt a move on Pasma for the win.
With two minutes left on the clock, Roman Stanek's #11 Hitech Tatuus F3 car came to a halt on the main straight, bringing out the yellow flags.
Patrik Pasma took his second victory in just as many weekends, preceding Guanyu Zhou at the finish line. Kush Maini was third - his first podium of the season after a very unlucky campaign. David Vidales was fourth, in front of Nissany and Chovet.
However, Pasma would later lose his race victory for marking his top speed under yellow in the third sector. It was bad news for Frenchman Chovet, who saw Zhou's inherited victory seriously threatening his points leadership.
Irina Sidorkova equalled her best result in the series and was P14, while Amna Al Qubaisi was 16th across the finish line.
Alpine F1 Team development driver Guanyu Zhou and Patrik Pasma resumed their battle at the front end of the grid on Saturday morning, when they replayed the first race start: Pasma took the inside line into Turn 1 after a better start and Zhou slotted in second.
In another uphill race, Chovet found himself seventh, while in the midfield chaos broke loose.
Starting P16 and P18 respectively, the two ladies of the F3 Asian championship had great starts off the line and both were able to avoid early contacts. With cars all over the place and in Abu Dhabi's massive run-off areas, Amna Al Qubaisi was also forced to take the escape road. Right in front of her, Stanek crashed with Pierre-Louis Chovet, in an accident that revelead to be crucial in the championship fight.
The Safety Car was quickly deployed and, as dust settled, Amna Al Qubaisi and Irina Sidorkova were classified P9 and P13.
The green flag was waved back again with 19 minutes to go and Pasma held the lead from Zhou, Maini, Nissany and Daruvala - the latter also cutting the chicane.
Al Qubaisi overtook Faria and, showing great pace to fight in the mix, moved up to eighth.
Khaled Al Qubaisi was then spun around by Alex Connor - the two cars being stranded in the middle of the track at Turn 8. They both rejoined, but the Safety Car was again deployed to remove a big debris left on the racing line.
The race resumed with eight minutes to go but, when a top-10 was looking realistic for Al Qubaisi, she received a drive through for the lap 1 track limits incident - a very harsh penalty compared to the classic 5 or 10 seconds time penalties usually inflicted in these situations.
Pasma and Zhou signed off from the Mumbai Falcons duo in third and fourth place and, 12 laps into the race, Evans GP's Pasma crossed the finish line to re-claim victory. Zhou, who was also under investigation for track limits, held his position and became the title favourite entering the final race of the weekend.
Irina Sidorkova had a very solid race and took home a P12 - topping her personal best finish in F3 to date.
After a great drive in the top-10, Amna Al Qubaisi fell back and ultimately had to retire due to a rear wing issue in the final laps.
The final competition of Round 5 at Yas Marina was all about Zhou vs Chovet: the two title contenders were only separated by a handful of points, but Zhou's pole position gave the Abu Dhabi by Prema driver the upper hand before the green lights, with the Frenchman again starting form sixth on the grid.
Guanyu Zhou had the better start this time and defended the lead into Turn 1 from Pasma, Daruvala and Vidales. Chovet went on full attack and fought with Stanek for fourth, but he struggled to find a way past the Czech racer. Al Qubaisi dropped to the back at the start, while Sidorkova was able to move up into 16th place, gaining three positions.
On the second lap, Daruvala - on fresher tyres - attacked Pasma, but outbraked himself and straightlined the chicane. This battle played in favor of Zhou, who could extend his lead just before the Safety Car was called out: Italian F2 driver Alessio Deledda had stopped on track, after crashing into the #51 Evans GP car of Irina Sidorkova.
Deledda retired, while the Russian 17-year old lady rejoined at the tail-end of the field.
The race went back to green on lap 4: after a few corners, Zhou had already gained a gap of over one second to his closest pursuer, with Chovet still struggling to pass Stanek. Nissany tried to join the battle for fourth, but found the run-off at Turn 8 and had to give back the positions.
Amna Al Qubaisi recovered to 16th place, while Alexandre Bardinon saw his race coming to an end when he spun at the final corner and stopped on the main straight - though the marshals were quick to clear the car without the need of a Safety Car intervention.
Amna moved ahead of Nicola Marinangeli, before the Italian claimed back the position a few laps later. He would receive a 30-second time penalty post-race for dangerous driving, which promoted Amna back to P15.
Sidorkova overtook Khaled Al Qubaisi in the closing stages to finish P16.
To round out a very competitive season, Guanyu Zhou crossed the finish line and claimed race victory and the 18 FIA Super Licence points awarded with the 2021 Asian F3 championship title, preceding Patrik Pasma and Jehan Daruvala on the podium.
Stanek held on to 4th ahead of Chovet, who couldn't ultimately do better than fifth. Red Bull-backed Ayumu Iwasa was seventh and secured the Rookie Cup title.
Amna Al Qubaisi was P15 in the final race of the season, which marked her return to formula racing after a one-year hiatus in 2020. Despite some unlucky races, Amna had a promising rookie F3 campaign among a field of very experienced contenders and will hopefully be back for more competitions in Europe later this year.
"What a season it’s been!" - she wrote. "So glad to be back after more than a year, felt so surreal to be back racing after my last F4 race in 2019.
Thank you to the team and mechanics and engineers who helped me improve throughout this weekend".
Despite a hand injury picked up on the second round of the championship, Irina Sidorkova was close to a points-finish and will now carry this valuable experience to the female-only W Series championship, which is set to get underway in June as a support event of selected Formula 1 GPs.
Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema, that also ran Hamda Al Qubaisi in a race-winning campaign in F4 UAE, celebrated the team's championship.