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F4 Italy: Hamda Al Qubaisi recovers, then taken out of race 1 in Imola

After making up7 positions in the opening lap, Hamda Al Qubaisi was taken out of the Italian F4 first race at Imola. Nevertheless, the Abu Dhabi racing driver remains confident for tomorrow’s races, strong from her results in the August round on the same track.

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It’s been a month since Hamda Al Qubaisi’s best ever result in the Italian F4 Championship in Monza, where she claimed a ninth place in the third race of the weekend.

With all the other Formula 4 series in Europe finishing their seasons, the penultimate round of the Italian-based championship thus saw an exponential increase of entrants: an impressive 34-car grid crowded Imola’s Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari for the penultimate race event of 2020.

The youngest of the Al Qubaisi sisters, Hamda, was back in the #88 Tatuus F4 car run by Iron Lynx under the Abu Dhabi Racing banner, in what has been a very positive full rookie season for 18-year old Hamda.

With two top-ten finishes and a series of top-15 stand out in Al Qubaisi’s 2020 European campaign, in what is arguably the most competitive championship for young talents at F4 level - and preceded by a groundbreaking winter season in the UAE-based F4 series.

Hamda had the chance to familiarize with many circuits and with different track conditions - something that the driver from Abu Dhabi missed.

At Mugello, Al Qubaisi had to tackle the very challenging wet conditions and added valuable milage to her resumé. The rain returned on the opening day of the Imola weekend, as FP1 was contested under heavy showers and FP2 posed even more tricky mixed-conditions. Hamda was P25 and P6 in the two sessions; she showed good progress before a spin put her out of the final minutes.

“Not a a bad day” - she commented on Friday.

“There were a few red flags and Full Course Yellows during the sessions, so I didn’t get a lot of time on track. But overall I think it was ok, P25 and then in the second free practice I wasn’t too bad in the beginning.”

“I think it’s a good step forward. We were on slicks and it was still wet and dry: the first part of the track was dry and then the second one was completely wet, so conditions were a bit crazy. But I checked the weather forecast for tomorrow and I think it’s gonna be dry, so that’s better!”

And indeed the sun came back shining on the Imola racetrack on Sunday, as the F4 field hit the track for the two qualifying sessions and the first race of the race meeting.

Unfortunately, Hamda couldn’t transfer the same pace into the first qualifying, where she found herself in 29th position. She then made improvements into Q2 and her position fluctuated between the top-20 to P26, where she would eventually finish.

“I think that Quali 1 and 2 did not go to plan at all, I didn’t push as I should and I think it’s myself to blame.” - she commented.

“The car was good, everything was good - I made a one second difference from Q1 and Q2 just by pushing more. The focus wasn’t really there.”

American driver Jak Crawford (Van Amersfoort Racing) clinched Race 1 pole position, ahead of Gabriele Mini and Dino Beganovic (both Prema Powerteam), with Iron Lynx’s Leonardo Fornaroli completing the second row. Crawford, who had a penalty to serve from a previous round, was forced to drop three positions.

Q2 was topped by Dino Beganovic, as the Swede preceded teammate Mini by merely 0.019 seconds. Bearman and Crawford shared the second row, while Russian newcomer Kirill Smal confirmed Friday’s impressive speed and slotted into fifth.

When the lights went out, Crawford immediately sprinted past Beganovic and advanced into second place, as Mini retained the lead. Delli Guanti, who had clinched his maiden win in Monza, also had a notable start and moved up into fourth.

Hamda Al Qubaisi passed Valint (Van Amersfoort), the latter having a slow start off the line.

In such a crowded field, the contacts started as soon as on the first lap and several cars got tangled at the Variante Alta chicene, where Chenyu Han went off and into the barrier. Josh Durksen (BWT Mucke Motorsport) got sideways exiting the second Rivazza corner and forced Smal onto the gravel, but the Russian SMP-backed driver continued.

There were more accidents at Tamburello on the following lap: Bortoleto and Ogaard collided, triggering the Safety Car. Also Axel Gnos was caught out by the incident and spun off. All three drivers were out of the race.

In the midst of the wild action, Hamda Al Qubaisi stayed out of trouble and made seven places up diring the first lap, advancing into P22.

Unfortunately, her race would soon take a disappointing twist when she was hit by Valint at the restart. Despite the trip through the gravel, Hamda rejoined the race, but had lost over a minute to the frontrunners.

Ahead, it was initially a three-way battle for victory but, just like in the Formula Regional European Championship race that preceded the F4 cars on track, the leader could open a small safe margin to the battling duo behind. Beganovic made it back into P2 and pushed hard to catch up with Mini, but was soon under pressure from Crawford again. The two swapped positions on a number of occasions - in a really entertaining duel for the runner-up spot.

But it certainly wasn’t the only battle for position on track: Fornaroli engaged in a fight for position with Bearman, who had previously jumped ahead of Delli Guanti. The Italian BVM Technorace driver would later end his race after an off into the gravel at Tamburello.

More action was going on in the midfield: Salmenautio and Ferati banged wheels, in another very heated exchange.

With two laps to go, Hamda Al Qubaisi decided to take the way of the pitlane and retire the car after turning more laps with practice purposes.

“Going into race 1, I was fully focused on making up positions.” - she then explained. “The first two laps went by and I made it from P29 to P22, but after the Safety Car restart I was hit by another driver.”

“From there I though if this day could get any worse! I continued to drive because I missed one of the test days here so I decided to continue so I could learn the track more and I tried to improve some sections of the track I wasn’t doing right, but then to save the tyres I decided to just come in. I wasn’t improving my times, I just didn’t have the motivation I guess, after a day like this.”

“It’s very frustrating, but it’s Imola, it’s a very hard track, it’s hard to do well here. Compared to the last race here I wasn’t too bad - if I did it once I can do it again."

After 17 laps, Mini crossed the finish line and took his fourth win of the season, followed by Beganovic and Crawford. Fornaroli was fourth after Bearman received a post-race penalty that dropped the US Racing driver to seventh. Both Edgar and Montoya thus gained positions as well and finished P5 and P6 respectively.

Francesco Pizzi and Andrea Rosso, Mini’s closest rivals for the title, had a more challenging race and took the chequered flag in ninth and eleventh place. Now Gabriele Mini leads the standings with 240 points - a 59 point difference to second placed Pizzi.

After a positive Friday, Hamda Al Qubaisi endured a rough Saturday at Autodromo di Imola. She tried to stay out of trouble, but in such a crowded field, trouble finds you. Nevertheless, just as she was crashed out of Race 1 at Monza before securing her best result yet, she reimains confident.

“I’m looking forward to Race 2 and 3 tomorrow, I hope it goes better. I’m just going to push and do what I know I have to do.”

The second Italian F4 race will start at 09:55 CEST with Hamda Al Qubaisi lining up in 26th place.

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