F4 UAE: Hamda Al Qubaisi returns to victory in Abu Dhabi
As the FIA F4 UAE Championship moved to Abu Dhabi for the second round of the 2021 season, Hamda Al Qubaisi stormed to victory in the fourth race of the weekend, marking her first win of the year.
A few days after the season opener at Dubai Autodrome, the F4 UAE Championship moved to YAS Marina Circuit, the home of the Abu Dhabi F1 GP which hosted the first of the back-to-back weekends of the 2021 five-event calendar.
Hamda Al Qubaisi, the 18-year old Emirati driver that made her single-seater debut in 2020 in the home-based F4 series, returned to the championship targeting more victories after her impressive 2020 campaign, where she added 3 wins and 12 podiums to her name.
Supporting the world-renowned Dubai 24 Hour race, the FIA F4UAE Championship powered by Abarth showed an increasingly competitive pool of young talents, as Dutchman Dilano van't Hoff impressed with two victories and son of former F1 driver Jarno Trulli, Enzo, took his maiden win in single-seaters. Hamda Al Qubaisi had a strong start to her campaign, claiming two podium finishes at Dubai.
“I think the competition this year is very high, much higher than it was last year." - she told us prior to the second round at Abu Dhabi. "I think we’re off to an ok start and definitely we’ll be looking forward to YAS Marina this weekend and hopefully do our best to even get a win”.
On her home track, Hamda immediately proved to be quick in the practice sessions, but couldn't repeat last weekend's performance to secure a front row start in Friday's qualifying sessions: her fastest laps put the Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema driver in fifth and seventh place for the first and third race respectively.
It was again Van't Hoff to clock the best lap in both sessions, also securing pole for Race 2 with the second-best lap in Q1.
From second on the grid, it was Italian Enzo Trulli to beat again Van't Hoff when the lights went out, similarly to the first round of the season. Towards the back of the grid, Saud Al Saud made contact with Jonas Ried, his car launching over the #77 Mucke Motorsport car. Enzo Scionti was also involved in the accident, putting all three drivers out of the race early on. The Saudi driver received a penalty for Race 2 for causing the collision.
Following a lengthy Safety Car, the 10 remaining cars followed each other for the remaining four laps after the restart: Trulli crossed the line to take his second victory of the season, preceding van't Hoff and Pepe Marti. Jamie Day was fourth, ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi, who had a good start off the line and moved up to fifth when Smal received a 10-second time penalty.
It was a better start for Xcel Motorsport driver Dilano Van't Hoff in the second race, as the Dutchman defended his pole position after the first corner. Second-placed Day dropped back to sixth after the opening lap, promoting Trulli and Al Qubaisi - who made several positions back to claim another podium finish after losing a couple of places in the first laps.
Hamda signed her best time on the seventh lap and moved ahead of a Xcel Motorsport train fighting for the last step of the podium. Meanwhile, Van't Hoff had signed off and could seal his third victory, 1.3 seconds clear of Cram Durango's Enzo Trulli.
Pepe Marti was fourth and led a train of six Xcel cars, including Kirill Smal, Nikita Bedrin, Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak, Oleksandr Partyshev and Matias Zagazeta. Jonas Ried was tenth and completed the top ten after receiving a 10-second penalty for rejoining the track unsafely at turn 12.
Unlike the second race, all the cars were able to take the start of Race 3 on Saturday morning, after Saud Al Saud's 3Y Technology Tatuus was fixed in time to make the grid after his accident on Friday.
Van't Hoff held the lead from Day at Turn 1, but the Emirati teenager soon had to watch his mirrors from the attacks of Enzo Trulli, who made a move stick for second.
Day quickly slipped down the order, allowing past teammates Nikita Bedrin and Matias Zagazeta. Hamda Al Qubaisi soon advanced into fifth place as well, just as Russian SMP-backed driver Kirill Smal went off, triggering the Safety Car intervention.
The race continued and finished behind the pace car, allowing Van't Hoff to bag his fourth victory of the 2021 season ahead of a very fast Enzo Trulli.
Bedrin held third, with Zagazeta and Al Qubaisi rounding out the top-5.
Saturday's Race 4 saw Ukranian racer Oleksandr Partyshev starting from reverse-grid pole, as the top-8 finishers from the previous race formed the grid.
Thai driver Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak had the better start and fired into the lead at Turn one, while Hamda Al Qubaisi moved past Jamie Day and started her charge from fourth on the grid.
Hamda was soon the fastest driver on track and pulled the move for the lead at the end of the third lap. Kirill Smal was also on a mission: the Russian made his way up the order and passed Inthraphuvasak as well, applying then increasing pressure on Al Qubaisi.
One fastest lap after the other, Hamda defended superbly and opened a safe margin of over 1.5 second, which allowed the young lady to claim her first victory of the season after 8 laps under the lights in Abu Dhabi.
Smal was second, ahead of teammate Inthraphuvasak and Enzo Trulli. Van't Hoff recovered from eighth to fifth but wasn't able to attack his Italian competitor, currently his main title rival.
"Coming into the weekend I wasn't very strong in my qualifying positions, because I didn't manage to get my sectors together." - explained Hamda after the races at Yas Marina.
"I started the first races quite far back, but I had fun in every race, I was fighting, battling with the others. I got a podium in Race 1 and a win in Race 4, so I'm really happy about that - I think that we showed our pace, we showed that we're strong."
"This year the competition is even higher than last year, so I'm really happy with the result."
It was Hamda's fourth victory in Formula 4 and her first of the 2021 season.
The young Emirati racer currently holds the record for the most successful female driver in F4 championships worldwide, with her sister Amna also having a race win to her name (Abu Dhabi 2019).
After eight races, Dilano Van't Hoff leads the point standings (163 points) ahead of Enzo Trulli (130) and Hamda Al Qubaisi (109), as the Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema driver advances to third in the classify.
The F4UAE teams will now make their return to Dubai Autodrome for the third round of the championship to be contested next week (28-30 January) in conjunction with F3 Asia.