F4 Italy: History-making round as Hamda Al Qubaisi scores podium in Misano
In a proper historic moment in Misano, Emirati racer Hamda Al Qubaisi became the first women to score a podium in what is widely considered as the most competitive feeder series worldwide.
It was a moment bound to happen. 18-year old Emirati talent Hamda Al Qubaisi had already proved to belong to the competitive elite in F4 machinery when she became the most successful female in all Formula 4 series globally, as she secured six victories over two years in the F4 UAE championship. Having started her career in single seaters in Europe - in the uber competitive Italian F4 - Hamda, though, knew that she had to repeat those performances in Europe, as she progressively attracts the world's attention.
After a positive first full season in 2020, where she focused all her efforts on learning the racecraft and the circuits, Al Qubaisi switched to the main Prema line-up for 2021 and immediately showed pace in pre-season testing.
In a very unfortunate round at the Paul Ricard season opener, Al Qubaisi wasn't able to capitalize on her speed; despite consistently running within the top 10 and lapping on par with the front runners, a series of contacts cost her a finish in the points-paying positions.
As disappointing as it was, it was clear that the young lady from Abu Dhabi was in for a good season - with consistent Top-10 finishes and likely top-5 appearances.
Nevertheless, the first race at Misano - second round of the 2021 Italian Formula 4 Championship powered by Abarth - will go into the history books.
After finishing in seventh place in the first practice session, Al Qubaisi went into qualifying on Friday with high hopes: in the 15-minute Q1 session, the driver of the #88 Prema car was impressively into fifth place, becoming the highest female qualifier in the series' history.
Pole position went to teammate Kiril Smal, even though the Russian was demoted to third due to a penalty for a Race 3 incident at Le Castellet. It was then Iron Lynx's Leonardo Fornaroli to claim his maiden pole position - the Italian also entering his second season in the championship and looking increasingly strong at the top-end of the 29-car field.
Sebastian Montoya and Oliver Bearman followed, with Al Qubaisi right behind them.
When the lights went out, Montoya and Smal had very slow getaways and all the drivers behind had to take evasive action. Hamda Al Qubaisi had a stunning reaction and was quickly up to third place, as Fornaroli led Bearman at the first corner.
From them on, Al Qubaisi drove a masterful race, keeping at bay the fast Van Amersfoort Racing's car of Nikita Bedrin. The Russian remained glued to the gearbox of the #88 Prema, but Hamda never put a foot wrong and defended her third position.
Montoya and Smal were on the move after their disastrous start: the son of the former F1 racer clearly had the speed to recover and quickly climbed into the top ten, with his Russian teammate always in his rear-view mirrors.
Maya Weug, the first ever woman selected by the Ferrari Driver Academy, was also enjoying another positive race: having started in 17th position, Maya recovered to 13th place and targeted again the top five in the Rookie standings. At the season opener, in fact, Weug had a remarkable debut in sigle-seaters and headed to Misano leading the class standings.
Increasingly competitive in qualifying as well, Weug has shown great progress in the races so far and continued to refine her racecraft in the wheel-to-wheel battles in the midfield.
The Belgian-Dutch lady fought hard with Joshua Dufek and Samir Ben, as Bizzotto also joined that train of battling cars.
In the second half of the race, Fornaroli came under pressure from Bearman, but the British driver was never close eanough to attempt a move.
Al Qubaisi was attacked by Bedrin at Curvone, but the Emirati driver shut the door and held off the Russian. Behind them, Valint had his mirrors full of Ried and Mernier. Ried moved up into fifth - while Montoya took advantage of this battle to jump ahead of both the R-Ace GP cars of Bernier and Meguetounif.
Montoya also found a way around Bence Valint, then starting his pursuit of Jonas Ried.
When Ried closed the gap to Bedrin, Al Qubaisi finally could catch a breath and was for the first time one second clear of the VAR driver.
With two laps to go, Wisnicki and Sztuka made contact - the latter ending his race in the gravel. Soon after, Smal collided with Valint at Tramonto corner: no Safety Car was deployed, despite the two cars being stranded in the run off areas. Meanwhile, Jonas Ried had managed to overtake Nikita Bedrin, but Al Qubaisi's maiden podium was already safe, half a second ahead.
Leonardo Fornaroli claimed his first win in the championship, leading Oliver Bearman by 1.7 seconds. Further 7 seconds down the road, the highest placed Prema car of Hamda Al Qubaisi crossed the finish line to take a historic third place. Never before, a female racer had stepped on the podium in Italian Formula 4.
Montoya was sixth and preceded Bernier, Meguetounif, Smal and Bizzotto. Maya Weug was a solid P13, sixth among the rookies.
The second race of the Misano weekend - which will see Al Qubaisi starting from seventh and Weug from 16th - will get underway at 19:35.