F4 Italy: Hamda Al Qubaisi ends on a high, Maya Weug hit while in P8
The third Imola race of Italian F4 offered some redemption for Hamda Al Qubaisi after a difficult weekend – while Maya Weug was hit and spun around mid-way through her best race in the series so far.
The fourth round of the Italian Formula 4 Championship powered by Abarth – half-way point of the 2021 season of one of the most competitive feeder series worldwide – proved to be a tough one for the two women on the grid. Hamda Al Qubaisi, 18-year old driver from Abu Dhabi, has established herself as the most successful female in Formula 4, having claimed 6 victories in the UAE based championship over two seasons and with a prestigious podium in the Italian championship in Misano. A regular point-scorer, Hamda made a big step forward in 2021 as she moved to Prema Powerteam. Joining Al Qubaisi in her second season in the series is Maya Weug – the first ever female driver backed by the Ferrari Driver Academy. With a remarkable karting resumé, Weug is making her single-seater debut in 2021 and has enjoyed a stunning first half of the season, both in the overall standings and in the Rookie standings, where she's currently in fifth place. In Imola, Al Qubaisi struggled to find speed on Friday practice after a technical issue and had a difficult qualifying where she couldn't do better than P25 and P18 in the two sessions on Saturday morning. Starting from the back in such a compact field was always going to be difficult, but Hamda has previously shown racecraft and race pace to recover in the previous rounds. On the other hand, Maya Weug had a really strong Friday with a P7 and P8 in practice – second among the rookies – but an issue in qualifying left her in P11 and P16. In the first race, both Hamda and Maya stalled on the grid; Hamda was able to recover seven positions to finish P18, while Maya was 21st. In Race 2, they both battled for P14 after a good start. Al Qubaisi launched an attack at Tamburello but couldn't make the move stick and dropped to P19. She ultimately finished 21st. Weug was P14, 6th among the rookies. But it would be Race 3 to offer their best performances of the weekend, albeit not with the hoped results for both the drivers. It was a clean start off the line for the whole pack this time: series dominator Oliver Bearman took off from pole and led Bedrin and Montoya at the first corner. Weug held 11th place, while Al Qubaisi immediately gained two positions to slot into 18th place after the opening lap. Van Amersfoort Racing's Bearman opened a half a second margin on teammate Bedrin – the Russian being pressured by Sebastian Montoya and Leonardo Fornaroli, who was glued to the gearbox of the Colombian. Maya Weug started an impressive charge and quickly moved into the points-paying positions. When Smal spun at Variante Alta, Weug found herself in eighth place – which would be her highest finish of the season to date. Al Qubaisi also continued to make up positions and passed newcomer Maceo Capietto – a French F4 regular and making his Italian F4 debut at Imola – with a great move around the outside of Turn 2, before moving ahead of Patrese for 16th place. Mid-race, Al Qubaisi was showing pace to be in the top-six. Unfortunately, an accident wiped away Maya Weug's very realistic chances to score points when Bence Valint rammed into the back of the Iron Lynx/Iron Dames car at Variante Alta, also collecting Conrad Laursen along the way. The Dane was into the barriers and out of the race, while Weug rejoined – albeit from the back of the pack. Montoya, who looked racey throughout the weekend, went off at Rivazza and allowed past Leonardo Fornaroli (Iron Lynx). Hamda Al Qubaisi, having advanced into 13th position, battled hard in a group with Zuniga, Patrese, Wisnicki, and Bizzotto. Patrese made a stunning move stick into Turn 2 on Zuniga, with Bizzotto also moving into eleventh in the latter stages. There was more drama for Weug when the Belgian/Dutch driver tangled with Perino at Tamburello. Perino was off into the gravel and Weug – who had nowhere to go – later received a debatable 10-second penalty. In the final laps, rookie standings' leader Nikita Bedrin got significantly closer to his teammate Oliver Bearman and started to put pressure on the race leader. Fornaroli was ready to pick up the pieces and followed closely, while Montoya got under attack from Dufek. On the final lap, just as Bedrin was launching his first attacks for the victory, a red flag halted the action when Jorge Garciarce crashed with Kiril Smal at Tamburello; the SMP-sponsored Prema car stopped in the middle of the track and the race was thus called before the crossing of the finish line. Oliver Bearman claimed his eighth victory in a row, in what has been a truly dominant first part of the season. Imola proved to be friendly ground for Van Amersfoort Racing, as the Dutch team recorded another 1-2. Leonardo Fornaroli was the only non-VAR driver to step on the podium this weekend. Hamda Al Qubaisi was 13th across the line – recovering again 7 positions from her starting place and ending an otherwise difficult weekend on a high. "Finally, at least one good race this weekend!" – said the young Emirati at the end of Race 3. "I think I went into the race with less pressure and knowing that I had nothing to lose, I made up good positions and had a positive race. It's been a really bad weekend but finishing on a high is important also for the next round." Weug was classified P26 and, while understandably disappointed, she showed great race pace and proved that her first points are only a matter of time. Red Bull Ring is up next (10-12 September), which is a circuit where Al Qubaisi has historically been fast. She made her one-off formula debut in 2019, and scored her first points in Italian F4 in 2020.