Rookie F3 campaign continues with more pace improvements for Hamda Al Qubaisi, as the young Emirati battles mid-pack in the highly-competitive Formula Regional Asia. With good recoveries, Amna Al Qubaisi keeps gaining places in the races despite an unlucky DNF for technical issues.
The Formula Regional Asia 2022 season has passed its mid-way point, with the third out of the five scheduled rounds now in the books.
The series - previously known as F3 Asia - has seen a steep increase in its competitive level over the past few years, with some of the most important feeder series drivers electing to race in the championship to prepare for their summer campaigns and gain some extra FIA Superlicence points.
At the Abu Dhabi season opener, 27 among the most promising F3-level drivers kicked off the winter season, with two extraordinary female drivers: the Al Qubaisi sisters Amna and Hamda - real groundbreaking figures in the Emirati sports scene.
Making her debut in F3, 19-year-old Hamda had a really impressive first weekend on home soil, as she had pace to finish in the Top-10 and ultimately ended 12th after a late Safety Car.
One day later, it would be her sister Amna - who had been away from racetracks for almost two years, having only contested the previous edition of the Asian series in 2021 after the pandemic stop - to make headlines, as she scored her first F3 points in a charging Race 2.
Unfortunately, a massive crash at the start of Race 3 would result in a fully rebuilt car for the Dubai round, but the 21-year-old racing driver luckily escaped unharmed.
One week later, Amna had to battle with time as her team completed the new car preparation during free practice - thus missing more track time. She was nonetheless able to gain 7 positions in both Sunday races, making her way up the order.
Hamda continued to make good progress at the second round and especially showed competitive pace in the second half of the races where she also gained spots to finish sixth and seventh among the rookies.
Formula Regional Asian Championship remained at Dubai for the third round, albeit using the longer version of the track layout. Four drivers joined the field for the first time this year - the returning Patrik Pasma, who had been a title contender in 2021; FIA F3 driver and FRECA winner Michael Belov; Owen Tangavelou and Francesco Braschi.
In the two 15-minute qualifying sessions, Hamda Al Qubaisi was P19 and P18 respectively, while her sister Amna was 23rd in both sessions.
Sebastian Montoya - entering his last weekend in the series - clinched pole position for Race 1 by beating Isack Hadjar and Jak Crawford, while young Dutchman Dilano Van't Hoff (Pinnacle Motorsport) topped the times in the second session, ahead of teammate Pepe Marti and Arthur Leclerc.
At lights out, Montoya had a slow start and had to cover the inside from the fast charging Hadjar and Aron; the Colombian managed to hold on to the lead at Turn 1, while Leonardo Fornaroli (Hitech GP) snatched third. Red Bull junior Jak Crawford almost stalled on the grid and dropped all the way to 16th place, but was luckily avoided by the whole field.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had a great getaway and gained one position at the start, while Amna completed the first lap in P25.
Sebastian Montoya slowly pulled away from Hadjar, as the front-runners tried to find a way around Fornaroli, who initially held on to third place despite a small mistake on a kerb.
Fornaroli and Hadjar, though, would come under the steward's scrutiny for a grid box regulation infringement and would receive a 5 second penalty.
Hamda Al Qubaisi slipped down to P21 and battled with Revesz, Iwasaki and Tangavelou, before the race was red flagged: Braschi's blown engine had in fact spilled oil on track and the race was resumed with 14 minutes left on the clock, under Safety Car conditions.
Montoya had the perfect restart, while his Mumbai Falcons' teammates were also on the move: Arthur Leclerc overtook Paul Aron for fifth place and tried to close the gap on Dino Beganovic, just ahead of the Monegasque. Despite a slower restart, Hadjar kept second place and was able to keep up with the race leader after a few corners.
Both the Al Qubaisi sisters were also making progress at the restart, as Hamda moved up to P19 and Amna to P21.
Thomas Luedi (BlackArts Racing) made contact with Salih Yoluc, spun and hit the wall on lap 12, but no Safety Car was deemed necessary. In the final moments, Leclerc find a gap and passed Dino Beganovic and, once Sebastian Montoya crossed the finish line, Mumbai Falcons could celebrate a historic 1-2-3 finish, with Hadjar and Fornaroli being demoted to 5th and 9th respectively.
Hamda Al Qubaisi got ahead of Iwasaki in the final laps and was P18; not far behind, Amna was P21, having gained two positions from the start.
At his series return after 2020, Michael Belov finished 10th and thus bagged the reverse-grid pole position for Race 2, as he shared the front row with Leonardo Fornaroli, ahead of Pierre-Louis Chovet and Dilano Van't Hoff.
Italian Fornaroli fired into the lead at the start, but Belov fought back after a wheel-to-wheel duel on the back-straight that allowed Van't Hoff to join the battle and dive on the inside of Fornaroli - as the latter also had to defend from Dino Beganovic, protagonist of a blistering start.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had another very strong start and was 15th after the first lap, while Amna was stuck in the hectic action and dropped to P25. She would overtake her father Khaled and Salih Yoluc soon after, re-gaining the 23rd place.
Arthur Leclerc navigated through traffic, passed Marti and Fornaroli and tried to keep up with the leading trio, who had meanwhile signed off. By lap 8, though, they had to deal with the return of Dino Beganovic: the fastest man on track, in fact, snatched second place with a late lunge at Turn 1 on Van't Hoff: the Swede completed the move around the outside and quickly hunted down race leader Belov.
After a great start, Hamda Al Qubaisi lost a few places and had to rebuild her recovery from 20th place. Mid-way through the race, Hamda's pace was almost on par with the Top-10 and the young Emirati cleared Tangavelou, Braschi and Lubin.
Dilano Van't Hoff's performance hit the cliff and he struggled, dropping behind Leclerc, Marti and Fluxa. On lap 10, Beganovic went for the winning move - but Belov defended. One lap later, the Mumbai Falcons driver found the gap taking advantage from a small mistake by the Russian at Turn 14. He would open a 2 second gap, as Belov had to watch his mirrors from Leclerc.
After tasting victory for so long on F3 machinery, Dino Beganovic crossed the line and won race 2, ahead of Michael Belov and Arthur Leclerc.
Having recovered to P17, Hamda Al Qubaisi was sixth among the rookie class and preceded Amna, P21 at the chequered flag.
The final race of the weekend went underway as the sun went down over the Emirati city and with cooling temperatures.
Unfortunately, there was bad news even before the start for Amna Al Qubaisi, who pitted on her formation lap and was forced to retire due to technical issues on her #99 Abu Dhabi Racing's Tatuus F3 car.
Pepe Marti was faster off the line and got ahead of his Pinnacle Motorsport's teammate Van't Hoff, who was then followed by Hadjar and Leclerc.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had another very strong start - while her father Khaled was handed a 5 second penalty for jumping the start.
The battle at the front of the field would play in favor of Leclerc and the Monegasque made the pass for second place on lap 2. A couple of laps later, he also found his way past Pepe Marti - but the Spaniard responded in a very exciting battle for the win that opened another gap to Van't Hoff and Montoya. After a three-way fight on the main straight, Leclerc grabbed second.
The brilliant racing action was halted by the incident involving Isack Hadjar and Paul Aron, which required the intervention of the Safety Car. Meanwhile, Hamda Al Qubaisi had gained a position on Revesz, moving up to P17.
Pepe Marti started to wave to break the tow and defend from Leclerc at the restart, but he outbraked himself at Turn 10, handing over the lead to his rival. He would have to defend also from Van't Hoff, Montoya and Pasma, all eager to grab a spot on the podium.
Hamda Al Qubaisi had a brilliant restart and made her way up to 14th. In the final stages, though, she could not hold Dino Beganovic and Francesco Braschi, but still finished in a very encouraging 16th place - seventh among the rookies.
Arthur Leclerc took his second win of the season and extended his championship lead over second-placed Pepe Marti, now 35 points behind. Dilano Van't Hoff clinched his first podium and preceded Montoya - who will not be on the grid at the next round - and Patrik Pasma.
The Al Qubaisi sisters will be back on track in a few days' time, as the series hosts the fourth and penultimate round of the 2022 season at the same venue and track layout on 12-13 February. To join the grid for the final two weekends will be also Léna Bühler (3Y Technology).