F4 Italy: Maya Weug P19 in single-seater debut, Hamda Al Qubaisi P30 after a spin
The Ferrari Driver Academy driver had a solid recovery in the midfield and completed her very first race in single-seaters in P19 – 5th among the rookies –having gained 7 positions. Hamda Al Qubaisi, despite a top-10 pace, dropped back after a spin and was P30.
The Italian Formula 4 Championship confirms itself as one of the top single seater junior series in the world and launches its eighth season at Circuit Paul Ricard, South of France.
At the home of the French Grand Prix – which will host the F1 race in just under a month’s time – a hugely crowded and competitive field of 37 cars hit the track for the season opener, with drivers eager to follow in Gabriele Mini’s footsteps.
Among them, two of the most interesting female prospects in single-seaters are entering the uber-competitive championship: Hamda Al Qubaisi and Maya Weug. Hamda returns to the Italian F4 for her second full-season and after a race-winning campaign in the Emirati-based F4 UAE.
In her home country, Al Qubaisi took 3 wins and seven podiums, ultimately claiming fourth in the standings. With six wins, she is by far the most successful woman in all F4 series worldwide.
In 2021, Hamda switched from the Iron Lynx-run Abu Dhabi Racing to the official Prema Powerteam colours: she will race alongside Sebastian Montoya, Kirill Smal and Conrad Laursen in the Italian powerhouse team.
Sister of fellow F4 race winner Amna and daughter of successful GT driver Khaled, Hamda performed well in pre-season testing and showed top-ten pace.
Having scored a 10th place at Red Bull Ring and a 9th place at Monza, the 18-year old Emirati had already made history by becoming the first female driver to score points in the series – but following her latest improvements, the top-10 seemed within reach on every track.
Also joining the grid was Belgian-Dutch-Spanish Maya Weug. The 16-year old made headlines earlier this year, when she came out on top of the FIA Women In Motorsport program “Rising Stars” and was awarded with a contract with the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy – the first ever female to join the program. Another history-maker, Maya will be entered in the Italian F4 under the banner of Iron Dames – another important project for women in the sport – in the #83 Tatuus car operated by Iron Lynx.
To get ready for her single-seater debut, Maya also focused on a testing program prior to the curtain-raiser at Le Castellet and was often around the top-20: an impressive start in such a crowded grid.
In Friday practice, both showed promising speed: Hamda Al Qubaisi was P15 and P11 in a tight classify. Weug was P20 and P23 in practice and continued her learning process in the midfield.
On Saturday morning, the qualifying sessions went underway in sunny conditions and saw Prema driver Kirill Smal topping the timesheets in Q1, while Van Amersfoort Racing’s Oliver Bearman went fastest in the second 15-minute session and claimed pole for the second race.
Hamda Al Qubaisi struggled to find a clean lap and was P19 in Q1. The Emirati driver was not happy about her result, considering the potential demonstrated in the practice sessions. In Q2, though, Hamda improved and managed to slot into 13th place. With her second fastest time, she will take the start from P12 in Race 3.
“In the first quali, I really didn’t get a lap together or a lap in” – she told us. “I had traffic in the beginning and once I had a clear lap I made a few mistakes that cost me on lap time. It wasn’t the best quali 1, but then Q2 was a bit better – I got a P13 and will start from P12 for race 3.”
“Not bad, but I definitely expected much better considering my pace in the test days, I expected to be much more at the front but I’ll just have to work on what I have.”
Maya Weug kicked off her first official weekend with a P26 in the first qualifying session – but she also improved in Q2 and moved up into P19.
At 2pm local, just as the cars were lining up on the grid for the first out of the 31 races planned this season, a light yet very tricky rain started to fall on the French venue.
The rain was not heavy enough for rain tyres, but could have proved very challenging for the young drivers, who started behind the Safety Car.
When the racing eventually started on lap 3, Smal led Tramnitz and Bearman, followed by Lomko and Montoya.
The Russian driver – at his first full-season in the championship after a couple of appearances in 2020 – progressively pulled away and left US Racing’s Tramnitz and Bearman to fight for the runner-up spot.
In the first laps, many drivers ran off track and had to resort to the wide Paul Ricard’s runoff areas, as they came to terms with the grip level.
Patrese pitted with technical issues and retired soon after.
The midfield saw non-stop action, as drivers constantly swapped positions – yet it was a clean race despite the almost 40-car entries.
On lap 6, Hamda Al Qubaisi dropped all the way down to P36 after a spin into Turn 11. The young Emirati, though, was able to make up some positions as she kept lapping on very competitive times.
The lap charts, in fact, confirmed that Hamda’s pace was good enough for a top-10, but the costly mistake meant that she had to settle for P30 in the first race of the weekend.
With five minutes left on the clock, Sebastian Montoya caught up with Vlad Lomko (US Racing). The son of the former F1 driver went for the move at the chicane and both ran off the track, but after a series of switch-backs, Montoya moved up into fourth. A few laps later, though, he would pull into the pits to change a tyre – probably an aftermath from the battle.
Maya Weug had a really solid race and continued to move up the order: in the heated midfield, Maya was great in the wheel-to-wheel battles and didn’t put a foot wrong. She advanced into 19th place – fifth among the rookies – and ultimately gained seven positions.
On the final laps, Bearman got really close to Tramnitz, but a late Safety Car denied him of a potential attack for second.
Pedro Perino (DR Formula) had in fact spun at the chicane and stalled, requiring the intervention of the marshalls.
The race was finished under SC and Kirill Smal could clinch his first victory of the season, ahead of Tim Tramnitz and Oliver Bearman. Victor Bernier (R-Ace GP) ttok fourth and preceded Lomko in fifth and Conrad Laursen in sixth – the Danish also being the first rookie.
Maya Weug was P19 – fifth in rookies – and Hamda Al Qubaisi crossed the line in P30.
“In race 1, I made a few positions at the start then, while battling, I made a mistake by myself and lost the car in Turn 11. It’s a mistake by me and I’ll learn from this, and won’t do the same mistake again.
We’ll see for Race 2 and 3 we’ll start further at the front, so definitely it’ll be easier than starting from the back.”
“We’ll see also for the weather, I don’t know how it’s gonna be like. I’m just looking forward to tomorrow to push and to forget about today and grow both as a person and as a driver.”
Drivers will have two more races tomorrow – respectively at 10:50 CEST and 16:10. With Al Qubaisi starting closer to where she belongs and Weug resuming from where she left off today, we can expect both to make more progress and finish the French weekend on a high.