F4 Italy: Hamda Al Qubaisi closes in on pace after a valuable learning weekend in Mugello
Emirati top racer Hamda Al Qubaisi completed the Italian F4 round at Mugello with a P23 after a recovery that highlighted her steady progression in laptimes throughout the weekend.
Racing under the banner of Abu Dhabi Racing, Hamda Al Qubaisi came into the Mugello round of the highly competitive Italian F4 Championship powered by Abarth with no prior experience of the racetrack and with very little experience of rainy conditions. After three days of learning, the 18-year old Emirati driver showed steady progression in laptimes but, after some tough luck in Sunday races, she comes home with two P23 and a P25 finishes that ultimately don’t reflect her potential.
Starting again from the 25th grid slot for the third and final race of the weekend at the Tuscan racetrack, Hamda dropped to 27th after a chaotic start which also saw a jump start from Valint and several contacts coming towards Turn 1.
Up ahead, Gabriele Mini led the field ahead of Bortoleto Oliveira, Edgar, Beganovic and Rosso.
On a still damp but quickly drying track, the F4 drivers finally enjoyed a dry race. But it was still challenging conditions for the young drivers, as several mistakes resulted in Vittorio Catino ending up in the barriers and Patterson and Smal having to make a visit to the pitlane for repairs.
Soon later, Cenyu Han and rookie Lorenzo Patrese made heavy contact and both retired. The incident brought out the Safety Car, which bunched up the field.
Hamda Al Qubaisi started to pick up the pace and gained positions as her competitors made mistakes and dropped back. When the green flag was waved again on lap 7, Mini led Bortoleto Oliveira, Edgar and Beganovic, with Al Qubaisi in 24th place, ahead of Patterson and closing in on the battling Wisnicki and Barnard.
As action restarted, Gabriel Bortoleto Oliveira and Jonny Edgar made contact at Turn 1 - the Brazilian would later receive a 5 second time penalty for the incident.
As her laptimes improved, Hamda Al Qubaisi clipped a wet kerb and spun, dropping back again in 25th position. Now with a two-corners gap from the rest of the pack, she had to regroup and charge back to advance from her starting position.
Proving her progression, Hamda could close in again on the pack by lapping almost 2 seconds faster than her competitors - in similar pace to the top-15. She passed Barnard and advanced into P24.
More driver had trips to the gravel or to the grass, as positions kept changing in the midfield. But the second half of the race was marked by the exciting battle for fifth place, which saw Pizzi, Crawford and Edgar battling closely: after switching positions, the two Red Bull junior drivers Crawford and Edgar collided at Turn 2, effectively shattering their races. Jak Crawford lost his front wing, while Jonny Edgar had to pit with a punctured tyre as a consequence of their contact.
After 16 laps, Gabriele Mini took victory ahead of Bortoleto Oliveira. Runner up place, though, went to Dino Beganovic after the penalty was applied to the Brazilian’s total race time, dropping him on the lowest step of the podium.
Andrea Rosso edged Francesco Pizzi for fourth place after an all-Italian battlem as Zdenek Chovanek was fifth after a solid race.
Montoya, Salmenautio, Simonazzi and Ramos Reynoso rounded out the top-10.
Hamda Al Qubaisi was 23rd across the finish line:
“To be honest, not the best race.” - she said. “It was finally dry so I was happy about it. But then I got knocked out twice - at the start and after the restart, which dropped me seven seconds away from the driver in front. But I managed to catch up and I think my pace was really good - we were only seven tenths from the fastest driver. Here in Mugello it’s a big step to make: in the collective test in the dry I was like two seconds off, so 7 tenths is not a lot and I think we made a big step.”, she added.
“I was really focused on catching the drivers because I was really angry after what happened, so I think it gave me a push to do even better. It was fun and I managed to overtake a driver when I caught up and I was getting close to the pack but it was already the end of the race.”
“I wish I had a few more laps, maybe I could have caught a few of them towards the end, but I think it’s a good learning experience overall - the whole weekend it’s been a bit chaotic with the rain and the cold as I’m not used to it at all! But I’m learning a lot and I’ve definitely taken a lot of experience from this weekend”.
Hamda Al Qubaisi will return behind the wheel of the Tatuus F4 car in the Italian Championship in two weeks time in Monza - one of the only two races she contested in her partial 2019 campaign. With a better track knowledge, she will again target more point-scoring results, as she did at the Red Bull Ring one month ago.