F4 Italy: memorable weekend for Al Qubaisi ends with another top-10
To round out a memorable weekend, Hamda Al Qubaisi scored another top ten in Italian F4, while FDA driver Maya Weug clinched her best finish to date and secured another rookie podium.
Saturday at Misano will remain in the history books of the Italian Formula 4 Championship powered by Abarth: 18-year old Abu Dhabi-born Hamda Al Qubaisi became the first ever woman to step on the overall podium of what is widely regarded as one of the most competitive junior formulae championships in the world.
Hamda, sister of fellow Formula 4 race winner and F3 racer Amna and daughter of GT champion Khaled Al Qubaisi, has gained the status of one of the most promising young drivers in the series, having massively progressed after a learning-oriented season in 2020.
In the first race, Hamda was protagonist of a great start and moved from fifth to third. She secured her first podium in Europe - which follows six race wins in the UAE-based F4 championship, that had already launched her as the most successful female in F4 categories worldwide.
In the second race - which was contested with the setting sun over the Misano World Circuit, on the Italian Riviera - Hamda was again eyeing a potential top five, but a mistake in the early stages of the race cost her a point scoring result. The Emirati driver, though, was able to escape from the gravel trap and rejoined the race from the very tail end of the group. With a solid recovery, she gave proof of her race pace and finished 20th, out of a 29 car field.
British driver oliver Bearman (Van Amersfoort Racing) won his first race of the season, ahead of Sebastian Montoya (Prema Powerteam) and race 1 winner Leonardo Fornaroli (Iron Lynx).
It was a challenging race also for the other woman on the grid, Ferrari Driver Academy member Maya Weug. The Dutch-Belgian lady became the first Ferrari F1 team affiliated female driver after a selection program supported by the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission and made her single-seater debut at Paul Ricard, for the first round of the 2021 Italian F4 season.
In the South of France Weug had a great debut, scored her first top-15 and topped the rookie standings, even though she felt disappointed after the first two races.
In Misano, Weug was P13 in race 1, scoring a 6th place in the rookie class. But the second race, just as for Al Qubaisi, was an unlucky one: the Iron Dames' driver was P25 across the finish line, after a spin while she was battling for P14.
In the third and final race of the weekend - the only one contested on Sunday at Misano - Hamda Al Qubaisi had another great chance for points, as she was set to start from sixth.
When the lights went out, it was again a Bearman vs Fornaroli battle for the win: the Brit held off the Iron Lynx driver, as the latter had tried to snatch the lead in the first corners.
Al Qubaisi had another positive getaway and maintained sixth place, defending from the fast charging Bernier, Bedrin and Valint.
Conrad Laursen (Prema Powerteam) had another difficult race and was off again after contact with Leonardo Bizzotto. The Dane had another retirement after an accident in Race 2.
After the first lap, Bearman had successfully kept Fornaroli at bay, with Prema's teammates Montoya and Smal looking to join the battle for victory. Fifth-placed Sami Meguetounif (R-Ace GP) was under pressure from Hamda Al Qubaisi, who could break away from the group of pursuers and was significantly faster than the Frenchman.
Behind her, in fact, the Van Amersfoort Racing's drivers Nikita Bedrin and Joshua Dufek banged wheels on more than one occasion, as they battled for eighth. At the Carro corner, they made contact under braking, but both managed to make the corner unscathed.
Having started from 18th, Maya Weug had a great start and was up to P14. The FDA-supported driver battled with Kacper Sztuka, Lorenzo Patrese and Francesco Braschi - among the fastest rookie drivers of the 2021 season.
On lap 6, Al Qubaisi locked the front wheels and lost momentum, allowing some breathing space to Meguetounif. The Emirati driver, in fact, was starting to come under pressure from the return of Dufek, who had jumped ahead of Bernier.
Hamda held off the Austrian until lap 12, but she then had to give up sixth place after a switchback.
The race was seemingly and strangely a quieter one until the two Van Amersfoort cars of Valint and Bedrin collided at the Variante del Parco: Bedrin took off and flew past his Hungarian teammate, with both cars making heavy contact with the barriers. Both drivers escaped unhurt, but the Safety Car was deployed to allow the marshals to clear the accident.
In a one-lap shoot-out for the chequered flag, the drivers were back up to speed for the final lap: Bearman, who had spent a lonely race in the lead, cleared Fornaroli and Montoya, who held positions. Hamda Al Qubaisi, unfortunately, struggled at the restart and dropped behind both Bernier and Cenyu Han.
Maya Weug managed to move into 12th position - third among the rookies. It was her best result in single-seaters to date, only at her second weekend in Formula 4.
Smal was on a charge but couldn't find a way around Montoya, as the top three finihsed in their respective order: Oliver Bearman claimed his second win of the season, ahead of Fornaroli, Montoya, Smal and Meguetounif.
Al Qubaisi was ninth - securing another top ten finish and her fourth point-scoring result in the series, completing a memorable weekend in Misano.
"What an amazing feeling!" - said Hamda. "I got my first podium, and it was quite unexpected. Obviously, I knew I had the pace and I could reach the top-3, but it is a dream come true for me."
"I had been chasing a podium in Europe since last year, and to finally get it takes a big weight off my shoulders. Race 2 didn't go as planned due to a mistake of mine, even though I had the pace to stay in the top-5. I learned from it, and for race 3 today I was in P7 the whole time until the safety car. I didn't have a perfect restart and lost a couple of positions in the last lap, but again it was a learning experience."
"I got some good points and coming from the opening round, which was quite difficult, it's a great confidence boost and a motivation for the upcoming races".
The 18-year old from Abu Dhabi is now 11th in the point standings, as the series heads to Vallelunga in three weeks time for the third round of the 2021 season.