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F4 Saudi: Hamda Al Qubaisi wins in Kuwait

Hamda Al Qubaisi claimed a dominant victory in F4 Saudi at the first round in Kuwait. With her eleventh win in single seaters and two more podiums, Hamda is now second in the championship standings by just 4 points. Her sister Amna had pace to win race 2, but was hit and spun from the lead - in an unlucky weekend that nevertheless showed her quick adaptation without prior testing at the track.

Hamda Al Qubaisi, F4 Saudi 2024, Kuwait Motor Town
Photo credits: Hamda Al Qubaisi

Just one day after being confirmed as part of the Red Bull Academy Programme, Hamda Al Qubaisi added one victory to her resumé following a dominant win in race 2 of the F4 Saudi Arabian Championship's opening round at Kuwait Motor Town. The 21 year old has secured her 11th win in single seaters and the seventh in mixed gender series alongside two more podiums.

The Saudi F4 championship kicked off its 2024 season at Kuwait Motor Town, a new facility located 56 km south of the capital Kuwait City and the first racetrack to hold a FIA Grade One licence in the country. The series which is centrally-run by Altawkilat Meritus GP held a non-championship Trophy Round in December at Bahrain International Circuit, where 13 drivers got up to speed in the all-new Tatuus T421 cars.

Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi joined the field for the historic first event and both stood on the podium once: Amna was third in race 2, while Hamda finished second in race 3. Both led laps and had pace to win a race, but were unlucky in a few circumstances although clearly showed potential to battle at the front.

The Al Qubaisi sisters were joined on the grid in Kuwait by a third female driver, Laura Villars, who had previously made her debut at the Abu Dhabi Trophy Round in F4 UAE. 26-year-old Villars has raced in the 'Challenge Monoplace' series of the Ultimate Cup package, both in F4 and in Formula Regional machinery, but is stepping up her involvement in international categories in 2024.

One of the main features of the newly-launched series is the increased track time, as drivers had a three day pre-event test available. Due to previous commitments, the Al Qubaisi sisters missed testing and joined the field ahead of the official practice; it was also Amna's first ever visit to the track, while for Hamda - who raced in F4 UAE in 2023 it was her first time on this specific layout, which meant that both the Emirati sisters started the race weekend with some catching up work.

In practice, Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi set the pace and finished P1 and P2; both Hamda's fastest laps were later deleted for track limits, and she dropped to fourth, while her sister Amna also had her best lap deleted but kept the top spot with a 2:06.696 as she effectively tested a push lap for the first time in the weekend while most of the grid strategically saved sets of new tyres and barely put a lap in.

In qualifying gaps significantly shortened; Federico Al Rifai claimed pole position by 0.1s over Oscar Wurz, who preceded Suleiman Zanfari by 0.056 of a second. Hamda Al Qubaisi had four laps deleted and, with a 2:02.258 had to settle for sixth on the grid. Similarly, Amna had her two best laps deleted and would need to charge from P12 on the grid. Laura Villars had made good progress from testing and was 14th fastest.

Hamda Al Qubaisi, F4 Saudi 2024, Kuwait Motor Town
Photo credits: Hamda Al Qubaisi

Race 1

Separated by small margins in qualifying, Al Rifai, Wurz and Zanfari had all the speed to contest for the victory - but also had to watch out for the recovery of drivers such as Hamda Al Qubaisi, who was clearly starting out of position. At lights out, Wurz managed to get into the lead after a slow getaway from polesitter Al Rifai, who had dropped to third. Hamda had a great getaway and moved up to fifth, but one of the stars of the start was Amna, who made up four places before slotting into P8 after a great launch.

The action was soon neutralized by the safety car following the retirement of Abdullaziz Abuzenadah. On the first lap, Villars had also made up one place, having passed formula rookie Juancho Brobio, who was involved in the contact with Abuzenadah.

A red flag followed, due to an oil leak on track. The race resumed behind the safety car but a mistake for Wurz at the green flag gave Zanfari the perfect opportunity to snatch the lead. Hamda Al Qubaisi soon attacked Almaosherji but before she could attempt a move, Al Rifai and Wurz just ahead collided, triggering another safety car. While Wurz was out of the race, Al Rifai continued and kept second place, but had an investigation pending for his accident with Wurz.

With now five laps to go, the green flag flew with Suleiman Zanfari leading the pack, ahead of Al Rifai and Almaosherji. Al Rifai was then shown the black flag for causing the accident, but he continued; now virtually up to third, Hamda Al Qubaisi closed in on Almaosherji and set faster sector times.

Temporarily up to seventh, Amna lost out one place to Aldereyaane at the restart even before they had crossed the start line but remained close enough for a few laps. On lap 7, Laura Villars overtook Abdullah Al Qubaisi Amna and Hamda's brother, at his first ever race in single seaters and protagonist of a very positive progression through the weekend - and she moved up to P12, having also set her personal best lap in 2:07.387.

Zanfari tried to pull away and extended his gap to over 3 seconds from Al Rifai and Almaosherji. Hamda Al Qubaisi backed off in the final laps and still bagged a strong P4 from sixth on the grid. The fourth place became a podium following the post-race penalty for Al Rifai, who had ignored the black flag and was handed a 40 second penalty.

Having recovered five places, Amna Al Qubaisi finished P7 after the stellar start - and despite the very limited knowledge of the track. A post-race track limits penalty unfortunately dropped her to ninth. Villars had a solid race and took the chequered flag in P12. 

Hamda Al Qubaisi, F4 Saudi 2024, Kuwait Motor Town
Photo credits: Hamda Al Qubaisi

Race 2

Despite the unfortunate qualifying on Friday, Amna Al Qubaisi had the chance to turn her weekend around in race 2, where she started from pole position. She shared the front row with Juancho Brobio, while Faisal Al Kabbani and Omar Al Dereyaane followed on the second row. From seventh place, Hamda Al Qubaisi would have to make up more places to battle for another podium.

There was heartbreak for Brobio, as he couldn't take the start when his car broke down on the formation lap. Amna had yet another fantastic start and immediately tried to pull away, as Almaosherji and Aldereyaane battled hard for second. Amna, though, saw her gap disappear when Wurz spun and beached his #11 car at turn 7, bringing out the safety car before the end of the first lap.

From seventh place, Hamda also had a good launch but got stuck in the mid pack also with the recovering Al Rifai behind her. From P12 on the grid, Laura Villars dropped to P13 over the first lap.

At the restart, Amna had to defend from Almaosherji, while Kirill Kutskov was up to third. Behind the top three, Hamda Al Qubaisi navigated her way through the pack with a stellar restart and gained several positions to slot into fourth place. Hamda would snatch third a few corners later, after Almaosherji made a mistake and ran wide, picking up a puncture and triggering a second safety car. For the second time, Amna Al Qubaisi - who was again slowly pulling away - had to start all over again.

At the green flag, Amna was hit and spun around by Kirill Kutskov and was luckily avoided by all the incoming cars. Her sister Hamda got by and took over the lead with 5 laps to go, followed closely by Federico Al Rifai.

Now down to eighth, Amna had to catch up with the pack, over 9 seconds up the road.

Al Rifai found a way past Hamda one lap later, going around the outside of turn 3 - but Hamda wasn't ready to give up yet and continued to put pressure on the driver of the #10 machine. Behind them, Kutskov, under pressure from Zanfari, made a mistake and went wide, losing two places and promoting Andrej Petrovic to third.

Al Rifai and Hamda Al Qubaisi opened a 3 and a half second gap to the group of the pursuers; Hamda was a few tenths faster but, although she remained less than half a second behind her opponent throughout the rest of the race, she couldn't find a gap to attempt an overtake. Al Rifai took race 2 victory, ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi who scored her second podium of the weekend and Andrej Petrovic. Kutskov was demoted from fourth to seventh, having caused the collision with Amna Al Qubaisi.

The unfortunate Amna crossed the finish line in P8, one place ahead of Laura Villars, who collected her first points in the championship after a clean and consistent second race.

Amna Al Qubaisi, F4 Saudi 2024, Kuwait Motor Town
Photo credits: Amna Al Qubaisi

Race 3

From third in the reverse grid race, Hamda Al Qubaisi really gave proof of her experience at the race starts and snatched the top spot into turn 1, leading Saqer Almousherji and Suleiman Zanfari; a slow start for pole-sitter Brobio saw the Filipino being swallowed by the pack, also after contact with Alkabbani. Abuzenadah also spun, requiring the intervention of the safety car on lap 2.

Meanwhile, Amna Al Qubaisi was eager to bounce back after her bad luck and fired from P13 to P9 in another perfect launch for the Emirati. Villars also gained two spots at the start and slotted into tenth place, targeting another point.

Racing resumed on lap 4 and Hamda accelerated away, retaining first place from Almaosherji and Wurz who had passed Zanfari at the restart. This battle gave Hamda some breathing space, although the top three pulled away from Zanfari, Petrovic and Al Rifai with five laps to go.

Not far behind the pursuers, Amna Al Qubaisi kept it clean and waited for her chance to strike: once Aldereyaane made a mistake, Amna moved up to eighth.

Almaosherji set the fastest lap and closed back in on Hamda Al Qubaisi but the new Red Bull driver responded with a 2:02.983 and kept the gap under control. Hamda then kept up the pace and, unmatched, she eventually pulled away.

Her sister Amna was also battling hard for seventh; Zanfari dropped down the order and then received a 10 second penalty for track limits, as Amna traded positions with Aldereyaane.

After 12 laps around the tricky Kuwait Motor Town circuit, Hamda Al Qubaisi crossed the finish line and took a dominant victory - the first of the season, and her eleventh win in F4.

Once in clean air, Hamda was unreachable and dominated the field.

Amna Al Qubaisi had a solid race and held on to eighth place, having made up 5 places from the start.

Laura Villars tried to defend tenth place from Alkabbani, who then received a 5 second penalty for having caused a collision at the start. The Swiss driver, though, had dropped behind the Saudi driver and finished 12th, also behind Abdullah Al Qubaisi, who had made more improvements. 

Hamda Al Qubaisi, F4 Saudi 2024, Kuwait Motor Town
Photo credits: Hamda Al Qubaisi

Race 4

The final race of the first championship round for Saudi Arabian F4 saw Federico Al Rifai and Suleiman Zanfari sharing the front row while for the Al Qubaisi sisters it would need to be another charging race, starting from P10 and P12 respectively. Laura Villars rounded out the grid from P14.

Al Rifai and Zanfari fought for the lead at the end of the long straight running towards turn 2 and Zanfari outbraked himself, eventually spinning in the runoff. Every driver was luckily able to take evasive action as the car of the Moroccan driver slided down towards the apex of the corner.

There was unfortunately heartbreak for both the Al Qubaisi sisters: Hamda was involved in a first lap contact and had to pit for a new front wing. Amna, on the other hand, was out of the race at the end of the opening lap following gearbox issues.

The chaotic first laps allowed Laura Villars to move from P14 to P8 and the Swiss driver enjoyed a few second gap to Abdullah Al Qubaisi and Abullaziz Abuzenadah. Villars would lose eighth to Al Qubaisi on lap 4, but she held on to P9 despite the approaching Abuzenadah. Ahead, Al Rifai and Kutskov checked out as a five car battle for third saw constant position changes and several contacts.

Aldereyaane's car ended up with a broken front wing, therefore dropping out of contention. Petrovic emerged as the third placed driver after a close fight but the leading duo had opened a 15 second gap. Despite keeping up the pace throughout most of the race, Kirill Kutskov couldn't get close enough to make a move and Federico Al Rifai took the second win of the season which also moves him into the championship lead.

With a third, a second and a race win, Hamda Al Qubaisi now sits second in the championship standings, merely 4 points behind Al Rifai. The first Kuwaiti round highlighted once again Hamda's talent and ability to recover from tricky starting positions.

Amna's weekend was clearly hampered by the second race accident as well as the intervention of two safety cars who neutralized her gap. Amna has in fact proved to be a great starter and, once in clean air, she's historically been hard to beat and great at defending. From an overall unlucky weekend, she will nevertheless take home positives, such as her quick adaptation to the track without pre-event testing.

With a ninth and an eighth place to her name, Laura Villars scored her first points in the series and in F4 and she now sits 12th in the standings. She is expected to contest the full season of the Saudi Arabian Championship, which returns to Kuwait Motor Town on 8-10 February. 



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