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F4 Italy: Hamda Al Qubaisi makes up 8 positions to finish P25 in Vallelunga race 1

Emirati racer Hamda Al Qubaisi had a difficult qualifying in mixed-weather conditions at Vallelunga, but she could then recover 8 positions in the incident-filled first race of the Italian F4 season finale.

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After a rough qualifying session in mixed conditions in Vallelunga on Saturday morning, Emirati racer Hamda Al Qubaisi knew she had an uphill challenge during Race 1: starting from the 33rd grid slot, the 18-year old Abu Dhabi Racing driver targeted a recovering race in the first of the final three Italian F4 races of the 2020 season.

“In qualifying I went out thinking that the track was very wet and again, with these conditions I could never show my best potential, it’s not the conditions that I do well in.” - explained Hamda, who has been improving significantly throughout the season in uncommon conditions for her native Abu Dhabi.

“I’m learning a lot and I’m starting to understand the conditions more. In qualifying it wasn’t completely wet, it was dry and wet - very strange conditions that I never tried. I’m learning and trying to make the most out of this round before I go back to the UAE where it’s completely sunny, so I think it’s good that it’s wet now so that I’m learning a lot.”

“In Q2 again was wet and I tried to push a bit more but I really didn’t trust the conditions like when I’m on dry.”

Freshly-crowned champion Gabriele Minì (Prema Powerteam) claimed pole position in Q1 with a fastest lap of 1:44.548, beating Oliver Bearman (US Racing) by just over two tenths of a second. Kiril Smal (Prema) was third, and lined up alongside Francesco Pizzi on the second row.

With a quick rain shower again hitting the track a couple of hours prior to the race start, Italian F4 drivers were left with an open tryre strategy choice: while most of the field opted for slicks, a small number of racers went for the wet-weather tyres - among them Hamda Al Qubaisi.

When the lights went out, Minì had a slow getaway and lost out to Bearman, Pizzi and Edgar. Al Qubaisi gained two positions and passed both Perino and Montoya - the latter almost stalling on the grid from 16th place.

On the second lap, the first Safety Car was deployed when Catino beached his Cram Motorsport Tatuus F4 car into the gravel at turn 8. Patterson was also back into the pits for a new front wing, allowing Al Qubaisi to advance to P29 after one lap.

The race resumed soon after and Bearman was the quickest to take the lead, as Pizzi came under pressure from Jonny Edgar (both Van Amersfoort Racing). The Brit, also on wets, was in fact among the drivers that started to lap competitively, just as Leonardo Fornaroli who made up several positions also on the grooved-tyres.

Al Qubaisi moved up to P28 before Baptiste’s triggered the second Safety Car neutralization when the Colombian went off and got stuck in the gravel.

The action restarted on lap 8 with the top positions fundamentally unchanged. Prema’s teammates Dino Beganovic and Gabriel Bortoleto went side by side through Turn 1, as also Fornaroli and Crawford drove aggressively to pick up the pieces, but it was the American to ultimately end up facing the wrong way at the hairpin on lap 9, after a contact with Jesse Salmenautio.

Just as the drivers that had gambled for strategy started to visibly search for the wet spots on the track to cool their tyres, the Safety Car phase revealed to be a longer one than expected and the race was finished behind the pace car after 15 laps.

Oliver Bearman secured his first series victory for US Racing and preceded Francesco Pizzi and Jonny Edgar - second and third respectively. Bortoleto edged Beganovic, while Salmenautio was sixth, ahead of Simonazzi and Minì - only eighth after the difficult opening stages of the race.

Hamda Al Qubaisi crossed the finish line in P25 - a positive and incident-free result for the Emirati lady, who recovered eighth positions in Race 1.

“In race 1 we decided to go with the strategy with the wet tyres - and I think it went well”, said Hamda on Saturday afternoon. “There were a lot of Safety Cars so that benefitted us towards the end. I made a lot of positions, I don’t even know how many.”

“It was good, there were a few incidents and at the start of the race a lot of the guys were on slicks while I was on wets with a lot more traction, so it paid off in the first part of the race.”

“I’m learning a lot and I look forward to tomorrow for race 2 and 3”.

The second race of the seventh Italian F4 Championship powered by Abarth at Vallelunga will see the green lights at 10:00 CEST on Sunday, with Hamda Al Qubaisi taking the start from P32.

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