FRAC: Amna Al Qubaisi gains positions in Dubai races, Hamda 7th among rookies
Few days after her crash in Abu Dhabi, Amna Al Qubaisi returned to Formula Regional Asian Championship and gained 14 positions over the course of the second round. Hamda continued her learning process in F3 machinery and was 7th and 6th among the rookies, as they target more improvements in Round 3.
Less than a week has gone by after the season opener of the 2022 Formula Regional Asian Championship at YAS Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi. The series formerly-known as F3 Asia hit the track with a star-studded grid, featuring some of the most promising up-and-coming drivers in the world at F3 level, eager to prepare their European campaigns and bag some important FIA Super Licence points. Among the hyper-competitive line up of 27 cars, the Al Qubaisi sisters were back together in the same series after the Trophy Round of the UAE-based F4 championship in November 2019, when Amna and Hamda shared the track in the support race of the Abu Dhabi F1 GP. On that occasion, Amna Al Qubaisi took an historic victory - the first for an Arab woman in single seaters, and the first for a woman in the F1 weekend. Amna, 21, was forced to sit out the entire 2020 season when the pandemic hit and only returned behind the wheel in 2021, when she made her F3 debut in the Asian championship. Hamda, 19, had risen to international acclaim thanks to a series of race wins in F4 UAE; the young Emirati star would carry momentum in her two seasons in Italian F4, where she became the first woman to score points and to step on the overall podium. The home round at Abu Dhabi was thus Hamda's debut in F3 machinery - and she did not disappoint: in an stunning first race, the younger sister finished 12th, one step away from a Top-10 that could have handed her the reverse grid pole for race 2. Unfortunately, a technical issue in the second race resulted in a retirement, and the problem returned to hamper her third race, but still managed to finish in P14. Despite the lack of track time for over two years, Amna quickly found herself on pace in race 1 and made an impressive recovery to finish 14th - equalling her personal best in F3. The record was quickly broken in Sunday's morning race, when Amna put together a brilliant performance and claimed a 10th place finish and her first point in the series. Amna Al Qubaisi was then involved in a huge accident at the start of race 3, when Cem Bolukbasi stalled on the grid and was hit at high speed by the driver of the #99 Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema car and Salih Yoluc. All the drivers were luckily unhurt, with Al Qubaisi assessed and released after checks. A few days later, the teams moved to Dubai Autodrome for the second round - in a very compact schedule that will see 5 rounds in just as many weeks. In practice and testing, Hadrien David (3Y by R-ace GP) and Sebastian Montoya (Mumbai Falcons) proved to be the men to beat for the weekend. Hamda Al Qubaisi was consistently lapping around the 15th place, while Amna - back on track after the accident - was a bit further down in P23. Montoya and David shared the pole positions after Q1 and Q2 on Saturday morning, as Jak Crawford and Pepe Marti were also less than a tenths of a second behind. In the second session, championship leader Gabriele Minì (Hitech GP) followed closely the front row starters David and Marti, and shared the second row with Gabriel Bortoleto (3Y by R-ace GP). Hamda Al Qubaisi had her best qualifying so far with P14 in Q1 and slipped down to P18 in Q2. Amna had two difficult sessions and ended up in P24 for both Race 1 and Race 3.
The first three races saw three different winners - and the fourth race of the year maintained the trend after a really spectacular battle for the top three positions.
Sebastian Montoya had a great start from pole position, as Hadrien David had to cover the inside line from the fast getaways of Crawford, Marti and Beganovic.
Montoya seemed able to open a small gap in the lead after the first lap, but the Colombian quickly had Hadrien David back on his tail. At the first attack by the Frenchman, Montoya defended - allowing Pepe Marti to put pressure on David.
Despite the battles, the top-two pulled away and David made the move stick on lap 3, as Montoya then came under pressure from Marti.
Both Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi gained a position on the first lap; but it was a short race unfortunately for Amna, who came to a halt at the end of the third lap with damage to the front-right. The retirement brought out the first Safety Car of the day.
At the restart on lap 8, David pulled away as Montoya was threatened by Pepe Marti - the Spaniard moved into second place at the final corner and, despite the Mumbai Falcons racer fighting back on the main straight, he had to give up second as he defended from Beganovic and Crawford.
When the race resumed, Hamda Al Qubaisi dropped a few places and battled with Lubin, Fluxa, Morales and Aron. She would ultimately end up in 20th position.
While in tenth position - therefore in provisional reverse-grid pole - Gabriele Minì pulled into the pitlane and retired for a technical issue, leaving the returning Pierre-Louis Chovet (BlackArts Racing) in the best spot for Saturday morning. The Frenchman cemented his position when the second Safety Car was deployed with 4 minutes to go: a crash from Thomas Luedi neutralized the action until the chequered flag.
Hadrien David took his first win in the championship, ahead of Pepe Marti - also at his first podium - and Sebastian Montoya. Jak Crawford was fourth across the line and preceded Dino Beganovic, Gabriel Bortoleto and the rookie Dilano Van't Hoff, who had missed the first round due to a positive Covid test.
Hamda Al Qubaisi was P20, a few places ahead of her father Khaled who took home yet another Masters class victory.
Runner-up in the 2021 season, Chovet lined up alongside Arthur Leclerc in race 2 - but it was the Monegasque to immediately fire into the lead at lights out. Isack Hadjar also went around the outside of Chovet and snatched second place, but the compatriot fought back a few corners later.
Dilano Van't Hoff was author of a solid start but was soon taken off by Gabriel Bortoleto at Turn 1, in an incident that immediately triggered the Safety Car.
Following the Race 1 retirement, Amna Al Qubaisi started from the back of the grid but was soon able to gain the 21st place, after passing her father Khaled and Thomas Luedi. From 20th, Hamda gained two places on the first lap.
Mumbai Falcon's Leclerc had a perfect restart, but Pierre-Louis Chovet was again looking menacing by lap 5. Chovet made a first passing attempt on lap 9, but Leclerc's defensive driving gave the chance to both Hadjar and Beganovic to join the party. At Chovet's second try, he was overtaken by both the Frenchman and the Swede - the latter then moving into second place in a Mumbai Falcons 1-2.
Amna Al Qubaisi was on the move and passed Ayato Iwasaki for 20th; they would swap places the following lap, but both moved ahead of Yoluc. When Sebastian Montoya hit trouble and dropped down the order, Amna advanced to 19th, with her younger sister Hamda a couple of positions ahead in 17th place.
The Colombian's car came to a halt in the final sector and a second Safety Car was deployed. The action resumed on lap 15 for one final lap around the Dubai Autodrome: the positions for the podium remained unchanged, as Arthur Leclerc took victory ahead of Dino Beganovic and Isack Hadjar. With the fastest lap, Hadrien David was able to pass Chovet for fourth place - and was followed by Lorenzo Fluxa in fifth.
Hamda Al Qubaisi gained three places and finished P17, seventh among the rookies, while Amna moved up the order from 24th to 19th in Race 2.
The starting grid of Race 3 was shaped by the result of Q2 - which meant a first row start for Hadrien David and Pepe Marti, with Hamda Al Qubaisi P18 and Amna Al Qubaisi P24.
Marti had a blistering start and initially went into the lead, but a brilliant battle with David in the first lap saw the Frenchman regaining the top spot a few corners later. Jak Crawford made his way up to fourth, just behind fellow Red Bull Junior Isack Hadjar as the latter attacked Minì for third place. With a good start, Amna Al Qubaisi climbed to 21st on lap 1.
The first stages of the race were defined by a close battle between Mumbai Falcons teammates Arthur Leclerc and Sebastian Montoya; they pushed each other to the limit, they allowed Paul Aron (Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema) to overtake both.
Hamda Al Qubaisi passed Levente Revesz (Evans GP) and continued to fight with Lorenzo Fluxa, as Amna closed in on the cars ahead.
A Safety Car briefly neutralized the action when David Morales (Evans GP) spun and stalled on track and the race was resumed on lap 7. Aron, Leclerc and Montoya continued to swap positions, until Montoya hit the Estonian racer at Turn 1 - but everyone continued.
Ahead, David and Marti pulled away, as Hadjar had to defend from Minì.
Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi held P17 and P19 respectively.
In the final laps, Hadrien David was under huge pressure from Pepe Marti, who had also signed the fastest lap of the race. The French driver, though, kept cool and crossed the finish line 0.359 seconds clear of the Spaniard, sealing his second win of the weekend.
Isack Hadjar was almost four seconds behind in third and preceded Dino Beganovic in fifth.
Khaled Al Qubaisi won three out of three races in the Master class.
With two penalties handed to Sebastian Montoya and Paul Aron, Hamda Al Qubaisi finished in 16th position, just ahead of her sister Amna, 17th at the chequered flag. Across the two completed races this weekend, Amna gained 14 positions from her starting place, 7 each race.
"It was very tough, I got a new car and it was prepared during free practice before qualifying", explained Amna. "So it was hard to be quick already. But we managed to get better throughout the race weekend."
Despite a difficult weekend, Hamda was also able to move up the order in Race 3, was sixth among the rookies and continued to gain important experience in F3 machinery in her rookie season. She is now seventh in the Rookies standings.
"I think it was a good learning curve" - told us Hamda after the weekend. "Quali didn’t go as planned and so that made the races quite difficult. However, the pace is there and in Race 3 I was only 4 tenths off the fastest of the Premas race-pace wise, and I think it’s a really big step."
"I just need to work more on qualifying and also adapting to the track conditions when driving."
They will be back behind the wheel of the #88 and #99 Tatuus Formula Regional cars in a few days, as the compact schedule means that cars will hit the track at a different configuration of the Dubai Autodrome on 5/6 February for Round 3.