F4 Italy: Al Qubaisi and Weug gain positions in Red Bull Ring race 1
Both Hamda Al Qubaisi and Maya Weug gained places in the Italian F4's first race of the Austrian round, despite the Emirati struggling with a tyre flatspot.
Saturday at Red Bull Ring meant that the drivers of the Italian F4 Championship powered by Abarth tackled the two qualifying sessions in the early morning – in cold temperatures before the sun shone back over the Styrian hills – before the first race of the weekend.
Top Emirati athlete Hamda Al Qubaisi returned to the Austrian track after claiming her first points of her career in the series in 2020, where she finished tenth. In 2021, Al Qubaisi made significant improvements and has been a more solid presence around the top10, also soring her first historical podium in Misano.
Maya Weug – the first ever female driver selected by the Ferrari Driver Academy – continues an impressive maiden season in single-seaters; in Imola, the young Dutchwoman was closer than ever to her first points, but contacts prevented the Iron Lynx driver from capitalizing on her pace. Maya also has sweet memories from the Austrian track, as she finished in the top-10 at the season opener of the ADAC German F4 championship earlier this year.
In the morning's cold temperatures, the first practice session on Friday turned out to be a tricky one for Hamda, who struggled a bit on the low grip conditions. As the track improved, she was up to 15th place – in an extremely competitive 32-car field.
Weug ended Friday in P20, but with good room for improvements.
“I feel like in free practice I struggled a bit with the temperatures – it was 08:30 in the morning and It’s been a while since we’ve driven in such cold temperatures." – said Hamda. "Obviously the track was really slippery and there was no category before us, so just understanding the track was quite difficult." – she continued.
“FP2 I think went well – still we have a lot of improvements to do but it was good.”
On Saturday morning, the same conditions were replicated by an early start for Q1.
“In the first qualifying, again with the temperatures we had a car that was a bit oversteery and with the track conditions it didn’t match well: it was sliding a lot and I didn't feel very confident and I wasn’t able to get the time in. In the second qualifying we changed a bit to have more understeer than oversteer and it helped a lot; I was able to get the time in at the end.” – explained Hamda Al Qubaisi.
Prema Powerteam's Sebastian Montoya scored the pole position for the first race, ahead of Oliver Bearman and Tim Tramnitz. Nikita Bedrin was the first rookie in fourth place, while Maya Weug slotted in 19th place (P7 among the rookies) and Hamda Al Qubaisi was 22nd fastest – with 32 cars within 2 seconds.
Leonardo Fornaroli clinched a remarkable pole in Q2, valid for the starting grid of the second race. Tim Tramnitz and Joshua Dufek followed the pace setter, with Montoya fourth.
With a few setting changes, Al Qubaisi improved to P18, while Weug finished in P24.
Several drivers tried to use each other's slipstream on the straights: “Slipstream makes a big difference here and I wasn’t able to get it in both sessions – that’s three or four tenths in the pocket that I could have got, but it is what it is.” – said Hamda.
At the start, Montoya had a good getaway and held off Bearman – but the Colombian ran wide at Turn 2 and both Bearman and Tramnitz went through.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had a great launch and gained two places off the line, but was then back to P21 after the chaotic first lap.
“[The start] was really good – I think one of my best starts actually – and made two positions" – summed up Hamda. "At the first corner I just tried to stay out of trouble, I wanted to bring the car home".
During the first two laps, there were cars all over the place: Baptiste spun out in the gravel at the final corner, while Bizzotto and Perino collided at Turn 2, ultimately bringing out the Safety Car. Bearman led Tramnitz and Montoya, with Maya Weug in 20th position – just ahead of Al Qubaisi once the action was neutralized.
The green flag waved back on lap 4, in a cleaner restart throughout the field.
On lap 6, Nikita Bedrin and Joshua Durksen made contact and the Russian had to limp back to the pits with a broken front wing. Both will retire from the race as a consequence.
Kiril Smal – who had moved into fourth after the restart – closed in on Montoya, but the Colombian managed to pull away and catch back Tramnitz, as the two started a battle for second. The leading four cars would be soon joined by Dufek and Fornaroli.
The first real passing attempt would come on lap 14, when Montoya went on the inside at Turn 2 but was off into the tarmac runoff together with Tramnitz. Both kept their positions, but Smal was now looking more menacing in the fight for the podium.
Similarly, Patrese and Braschi fought over the final point-paying position, with Braschi eventually making the move stick.
As most of the drivers struggled to follow closely the car in front, Maya Weug's solid pace allowed the Iron Dame to catch up with Sztuka and passed him for 17th place. Al Qubaisi followed closely in P19, also getting closer to the Polish driver in the final stages.
After 20 laps, Bearman won convincingly and was never under threat from Tramnitz, second across the finish line. Despite coming under investigation for an early restart after the Safety Car, Sebastian Montoya held on to third, ahead of Kiril Smal, Joshua Dufek and Leonardo Fornaroli. Andrea Kimi Antonelli, at his first ever race in single-seaters, was P9 and first in the rookie's classify.
Maya Weug took the chequered flag in 17th place (P6 in Rookies), gaining two positions from her starting place; Hamda Al Qubaisi also had a positive first race despite a tyre flatspot and made up three positions, finishing P19.
“In race 1, I had a flatspot from qualifying and that caused too many vibrations in the straights and the whole time I was trying to manage the flatspot." – said Hamda.
"I think I did ok starting from where I started, but in the end I think I should be a bit more consistent and in that way I would probably have made more positions, but it’s very difficult to overtake here.”
“I’m still learning a lot – last year this race [at Red Bull Ring] was one of my best of the season, so coming back here I came with too many expectations and right now, seeing the result is not really what I want." – she added. "We have two more races tomorrow and I will focus on these two and let’s see what the weather does. I’m obviously still learning and trying to find out what I can do better with the car.”
“After I changed the setup to have a bit more understeer [to follow others] was even worse, we had even more understeer, but with the flatspot it was very difficult to be honest, I wasn’t able to turn well in the corners and I had too many vibrations. But we have better tyres for race 2 and 3 tomorrow.”
The Emirati will start from P15 in race 2. “Tomorrow we’re also starting from better positions and that will help a bit at the start to get out of the chaos".
The Italian F4 second race will get underway at 11:25 CEST.