F4UAE: Hamda Al Qubaisi claims maiden podium in Dubai
The youngest of the Al Qubaisi sisters kicked-off the 2020 F4UAE championship in Dubai with a pole position and her first ever podium, while Saudi Reema Juffali claimed her first F4 top-5 in a solid weekend.
The UAE-based Formula 4 championship made its 2020 racing debut for its first championship round, after Amna Al Qubaisi made history in Abu Dhabi last months during the Trophy Round as a support event of the F1 Grand Prix.
Part of the supporting schedule to the winter classic Dubai 24H, F4 UAE featured again quality racing from some of the most interesting upcoming young talents: Italian Francesco Pizzi, Zdenek Chovanec, Lorenzo Fluxa and Dexter Patterson made their formula car debut.
After making headlines by winning the non-championship race at Yas Marina, Amna Al Qubaisi did not join her younger sister Hamda on the grid (at her 4th ever entry in a Formula 4 race), who was back on home soil for Abu Dhabi Racing. The second lady on the entry list was Saudi Reema Juffali, as the 27-year old girl starts her second F4 season after a very fruitful British F4 campaign.
Hamda Al Qubaisi followed in her sister's footsteps and led the way in practice and in qualifying, claiming the first pole position of her career. Behind her, Italian rookie Pizzi was second and the fastest of the Xcel Motorsport squad, which completed the top-5 with Fluxa, Patterson and Chovanec. Juffali lined up in 8th place.
After a slow getaway, Hamda Al Qubaisi found herself in third position, with Pizzi and Fluxa leading the field after the opening corner. Juffali got off the line well and gained one place, while Patterson dropped down from the top-5.
The battle for the leadership between the Xcel drivers allowed Al Qubaisi to regroup and keep her #88 entry within striking distance, despite the increasing pressure of Nicola Marinangeli behind. After a series of fast laps, Hamda managed to initially break away from the Italian, but the leading duo kept opening up a small yet consistent gap.
In the midfield, Nico Gohler and Dexter Patterson put up an interesting battle, with the Scottish driver ultimately claiming the position. Reema Juffali's pace started to drop and the Saudi driver had to surrender two places.
In the second half of the race, Al Qubaisi's initial chase revealed to be costly on her tyres: the 17-year old Emirati girl flatspotted her tyres and ultimately struggled for grip, as she lost out positions to both Marinangeli and Patterson.
As Francesco Pizzi took a commanding win at his single-seater debut, Fluxa was second under the chequered flag. Marinangeli completed the podium, while Nico Gohler passed Al Qubaisi for the fifth place on the very last lap of the race. It was a trye-management lesson for young Hamda, who nonetheless showed impressive speed and determination. Juffali brought home a solid top-10 with ninth.
Hamda Al Qubaisi shared the front row with BWT Mücke Motorsport driver Nico Gohler, while all five Xcel Motorsport drivers followed behind.
It was a messy start from most of the field though, as several drivers jumped the start and the rest of the drivers struggled to get off the line. Marinangeli visibly moved before the lights went out, but to inherit the lead in such a chaotic situation was Gohler, ahead of Al Qubaisi.
Fluxa, Pizzi and Juffali all gained places, while Patterson and Marinangeli were among the biggest losers.
Reema Juffali started to struggle for grip after the very opening laps: tyre management was again one of the biggest factors also for Al Qubaisi, who locked-up in the tricky hairpin while trying to close the gap on Gohler. In doing so, she allowed Fluxa to get closer and, after a mistake by the Emirati girl, both Fluxa and Pizzi moved ahead to second and third. It was a difficult part of the race for Juffali as well, as she was overtaken by Marinangeli and Patterson: the Dragon Racing driver was ultimately forced to retire with mechanical troubles after 5 laps.
But the battle for the lead wasn't over yet: Fluxa caught up with Gohler and launched a move on the German which resulted in a contact: Gohler spun, leaving room for Pizzi and Al Qubaisi to reclaim the leading positions.
Lorenzo Fluxa charged back and tried to regain P3, igniting an exciting fight between Xcel teammates Chovanec and Marinangeli. As the Portuguese held on to third, Al Qubaisi seemed to have found the pace to strip Pizzi of his second win: she followed the Italian for the entire race at under half a second gap, but could not find a way past the #51 entry. Hamda dived on the inside at turn 14 and had a better exit from the last corner, but the two young drivers switched lines a few times before restoring the initial order.
After 13 laps, Francesco Pizzi took his second victory following an incredibly tight race with Al Qubaisi, who finished an outstanding race with her first ever podium finish. Despite the messy start, Al Qubaisi showed great pace and remarkable recacraft.
Behind her, Marinangeli brought home a third place after a series of penalities were applied: he received, together with Gohler, Chovanec and Reisch, a 5 seconds penalty for jumping the start, while Fluxa was hit by a 10 seconds penalty for causing the collision with Gohler.
Dubai woke up on Friday morning under intense showers, which forced the third race of the weekend to be delayed to 12:35 local time, thus affecting the whole support series schedule. For this reason, the fourth race was cancelled and race 3 was shortened to 22 minutes.
Hamda Al Qubaisi started again from P1, which eventually resulted in a curious stat: all of the five F4 UAE races this season (including the non-championship round) featured a female driver on pole position.
It was a way better start off the line for the Abu Dhabi Racing driver, who entered turn one in the lead, ahead of Pizzi and Fluxa. A few metres later, though, Hamda clipped the still-wet outside kerb and, trying to avoid a spin, she collected Chovanec, losing her rear wing.
It was quickly game over for Al Qubaisi, who had made the best start of her weekend.
With the Safety Car being deployed to remove the stranded car of Chovanec, Pizzi found himself in the lead again, with Fluxa, Gohler and Marinangeli behind. Reema Juffali had a good start and managed to stay out of trouble in the first lap incident, as she advanced to P5.
At the restart, the Saudi girl went a bit wide at turn one, losing one place to Reisch, while Gohler attacked Fluxa but was overtaken by Marinangeli in the process. The Italian kept momentum and moved past Fluxa as well, while Juffali reclaimed P5 and closed in on Gohler. The German BWT Mücke Motorsport driver made another mistake into turn 10 and left space for Juffali to have a look at the following hairpin, but she locked-up and had to back off.
In front, Pizzi checked out and continued his dominant weekend by gaining over 6.6 seconds over the rest of the field, while some intense action for 6th to 9th place entertained the public. Francesco Pizzi completed 10 laps in just over 22 minutes and crossed the finish line to take his third commanding win of the weekend. Marinangeli was second and Fluxa rounded out the top-3, for another Xcel 1-2-3.
Reema Juffali had another very solid race, mostly spent in Gohler's gearbox. She was 5th at the finish line, claiming her first ever top-5 in a Formula 4 race. She now sits 9th in the championship standings with 12 points.
The F4 UAE Championship will make its racing return next week in Abu Dhabi, with a new championship leader and potentially a new star: 15-year old Francesco Pizzi, who impressively outperformed his rivals with a commanding weekend.
In Hamda's words:
"Had a great race weekend here at Dubai Autodrome for round 1 of the F4UAE.
Race 3 didn’t end very well but it’s all a learning experience...I would like to thank the team for everything this weekend and looking forward to round 2 at Yas Marina Circuit"
Ph credits: F4 UAE