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F4 UAE: Hamda Al Qubaisi secures top-five at Trophy Round

After showing front-running pace, Hamda Al Qubaisi scored a top-five in the F4 UAE traditional Trophy Round at Abu Dhabi, equalling her best finish at the event that supports the F1 season finale and that featured four female drivers. Her sister Amna and fellow F1 Academy race winner Jessica Edgar had unlucky weekends, while F4 rookie Laura Villars had a learning-oriented round.

Hamda Al Qubaisi, MP Motorsport, F4 UAE, Trophy Round Abu Dhabi
Photo credits: F4 UAE

F4 UAE held its traditional non-championship Trophy Round in support of the F1 season finale at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, with a quality entry list of some of the most promising F4 drivers in a mix of local and international talents. This year's grid included four female racers: F1 Academy race winners Amna Al Qubaisi, Hamda Al Qubaisi and Jessica Edgar, as well as F4 rookie Laura Villars.

Amna Al Qubaisi returned to the F4 UAE Trophy Round after winning the race in 2019 - in one of her career breakthroughs, as the young Emirati made history for becoming the first Arab woman to win a single seater race. Hamda also had great success on home soil, having won six races in the UAE-based F4 championship across three seasons. The Al Qubaisi sisters have both raced in F1 Academy in 2023, and both have been among the protagonists of the inaugural edition of the all-female championship promoted by F1, racing for MP Motorsport.

With only one previous year of single seater experience, British driver Jessica Edgar entered the 2023 season in F1 Academy with Rodin Carlin - and made great progress through the year, until a stellar season finale in Austin in October, where she claimed pole position and a race win. Making her first start in F4 UAE was also Laura Villars: the French-Swiss driver has raced in the Ultimate Cup single seater series, where she mainly drove a Formula Regional car.

At the world-class Abu Dhabi venue, both the Al Qubaisi sisters soon showed great speed on home soil, as they joined the field with MP Motorsport and aimed to maximise their experience at the track. In a spectacularly close practice session on Friday, Hamda Al Qubaisi was third fastest, barely 1 tenths off the top of the timing sheets: Hamda's 1:59.153 lap was very promising, with the top four separated by thousandths of a second between each other. Her sister Amna was seventh, half a second from the pace setter, in an equally positive first session.

With less experience at the Yas Marina track, Jessica Edgar was P12, as the Carlin driver kept making progress after each session. At her first competitive session in F4 machinery, Laura Villars rounded out the field, having clocked a 2:16.199 in the early minutes of the session, while she tried to familiarize with the car and the track. The session was topped by Federico Al Rifai (Xcel Motorsport), who preceded Keanu Al Azhari (Yas Heat Racing Academy) - with four Emirati drivers leading the times.

Later in the afternoon, qualifying was contested in the always spectacular night setting; Keanu Al Azhari managed to snatch pole position from Rifai, as British up-and-coming talent Freddie Slater moved up to third in the first of the Prema entries. Gaps continued to be extremely close and, despite a strong lap, Hamda Al Qubaisi was fifth fastest for the grid of race 1.

Unfortunately, Amna Al Qubaisi had many lap times deleted for track limits and would be forced to start from P13 on the grid, just behind Jessica Edgar in P12. Laura Villars significantly improved her times: her new personal best in qualifying was almost ten seconds faster than her practice time.

Start, F4 UAE, Trophy Round Abu Dhabi
Photo credits: F4 UAE

In the opening race, Al Azhari made no mistakes at the start and retained the top spot from Al Rifai - who was soon under attack from Slater. The Briton attempted several moves on the first lap, but Al Rifai held on. This allowed Al Azhari to pull away in the lead.

There was more action behind them: Hamda Al Qubaisi defended well from Noah Lisle, then chased Rashid Al Dhaheri for fourth place, as the MP Motorsport racer applied pressure throughout most of the race.

At the end of the first lap, Laura Villars spun and made contact with the barrier at Turn 14; having picked up rear suspension damage, she managed to limp back to the pits and unfortunately retired.

The race leader continued to extend his margin, although Al Rifai, once he had managed to break away from Slater, started to eat up the gap and steadily closed in on Al Azhari. Four seconds separated the leading duo by lap 5, but the gap was down to 1.8 seconds 8 laps later. At the start of the final lap, the Xcel Motorsport driver had gained another half a second and eventually caught the leader - but ran out of time to attempt a move.

Keanu Al Azhari took victory in the first race, 0.7 seconds ahead of Federico Al Rifai.

Freddie Slater followed four seconds down the road.

Rashid Al Dhaheri and Hamda Al Qubaisi ran nose to tail throughout the race and, although Hamda had pace, the nature of the Yas Marina Circuit made it difficult for the Emirati star to attempt a pass on her compatriot.

There were exciting battles all through the pack - particularly for the final spots of the top ten. Georgy Zhuravskiy was under pressure from Dion Gowda and Zack Scoular. The constant position changes allowed Amna Al Qubaisi to join this group of cars and, up to P11, she battled elbows out for the top ten.

With both the Al Qubaisi sisters with track limit warnings, Amna had to be extra cautious in the second part of the race, as Zhuravskiy picked up a 5 second penalty. In the closing laps, Amna settled in P11, having overtaken Scoular. She defended masterfully - but ultimately came 0.021 of a second short of tenth, after Zhuravskiy's penalty was applied at the chequered flag.

Jessica Edgar ran an uneventful race in P13, which she retained also after a track limit penalty.

With fifth place, Hamda Al Qubaisi equalled her best result at the Abu Dhabi F4 UAE Trophy Round and collected a very solid result under the eyes of the F1 paddock. She kept both Noah Lisle and Alex Powell at bay and maximised her pace.

Amna Al Qubaisi, MP Motorsport, F4 UAE, Trophy Round Abu Dhabi
Photo credits: F4 UAE

From pole position, Al Azhari had another strong start on Sunday morning and fired into the lead at turn one, while Al Dhaheri and Al RIfai fought for second place; the former, though, briefly ran wide and had to settle for third.

Further down the field, Zack Scoular made a mistake at turn 7 and hit Jessica Edgar's Rodin Carlin car, whose race ended on the first lap. The accident required the intervention of the safety car, Scoular pitted for a nose change, while Amna Al Qubaisi also had to pit with a puncture.

The action resumed on lap 3 and Al Azhari had a clean restart, quickly pulling away while Al Rifai was again under pressure from Al Dhaheri, before he could focus again on chasing the leader when Al Dhaheri had to watch his mirrors from Lisle and Slater - who had passed Powell at the restart.

There was no luck for Hamda Al Qubaisi as well, as she dropped from fifth at the start to ninth. Hamda tried to fight back on Gowda and the two closed in on Coskun Irfan as well in the final 10 minutes of the race. Gowda found a way past Irfan - and Al Qubaisi followed, as she gained back eighth place at turn 9.

The recovering Amna Al Qubaisi caught Laura Villars and overtook the French driver for eleventh place on lap 9 - both running ahead of Scoular. The earlier pit stop, though, gave Amna no chance to catch back the pack.

Meanwhile, Al Azhari and Al Rifai were again battling for the win, with the latter having closed the gap to under a second. On the penultimate lap, a mistake for Al Azhari allowed Al Rifai to further close in, but Al Azhari held on and took the chequered flag claiming two victories at the non-championship round. Third place went to Al Dhaheri, who controlled from Lisle and Slater.

Hamda Al Qubaisi tried to find a way past Gowda until the very final lap but ultimately crossed the finish line in P8. Her sister Amna was P11, in an overall unlucky second race.

While Laura Villars lost P12 to the recovering Scoular, she continued to massively improve her lap times and recorded her best lap of the weekend on lap 14, with a 2:04.387, two seconds faster than her best qualifying effort.

While it was an unlucky weekend for Jessica Edgar, the young British driver collected valuable experience at a new track, as she will aim to continue her progress into 2024.

The 2024 F4 UAE Championship is set to host its first points-paying round at Yas Marina Circuit on 12-14 January, with an entry list yet to be announced.

Jessica Edgar, Rodin Carlin, F4 UAE, Trophy Round Abu Dhabi
Photo credits: F4 UAE



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