At her debut in one of the world's most competitive feeder series, Hamda Al Qubaisi greatly impressed after the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine practice sessions in Monza, showing enough pace to run just outside the top-10.
Emirati racing driver Hamda Al Qubaisi has made headlines in the past couple of years for her fast rise in junior single-seater championships - having become the most successful female driver ever in F4 all around the globe.
Last winter, Hamda stepped up to Formula Regional Asian Championship, in her first F3 campaign. Racing for Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema, Al Qubaisi was quickly up to pace and scored a 12th place at her race debut in Abu Dhabi.
Throughout the FRAC season, the young Emirati was close to the point-scoring positions in an increasingly quality field, including drivers from FRECA, FIA Formula 3 and FIA Formula 2.
At the start of the European campaigns, Hamda announced she would remain at Prema Powerteam for her rookie season in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine - arguably one the most competitive F3 championships in the world.
With a field of almost 40 entries, Hamda contested the pre-season testing at Barcelona, Paul Ricard and Monza, learning the secrets of the car and of the Pirelli tyre - which is different from the Giti Tire used in the Asian series.
Crucially, Hamda found a solution to some of the issues that she had encountered by making a new seat - a really important and often overlooked aspect.
"In the pre-season test it was really nice to get back to Europe, start with physical and mental training and get back in the rhythm", Hamda told us on Friday in Monza. "I think the collective tests were okay in terms of understanding the Pirelli tyres, but other than that I think we've done a big step today in the practice sessions for the race weekend."
On a sunny Friday at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza - despite the menacing weather forecasts for the remainder of the weekend - cars hit the track for the first official timed session of the 2022 season.
Prema Powerteam's Paul Aron and Dino Beganovic topped the morning session - as only 36 out of the 37 drivers officially set a lap time. The transponder on Hamda Al Qubaisi's #88 Prema in fact failed to record the times, leaving the Emirati with no official time reference. The team's telemetry, though, recorded a 1:47.685 lap that would put Hamda in eleventh position - in an extremely encouraging start of the season.
"I've definitely improved a lot from the pre-season tests, so I'm happy about it", Al Qubaisi explained.
"My transponder wasn't working so I wasn't really on the time screen but when I take the time from the dash it was a P11, so I was really happy and shocked about it."
"That's also a motivation to keep doing better".
And her strong form continued into FP2, where she further improved her time and was P19, after spending most of the session again just outside the top-ten.
"In FP2 I couldn't put the sectors together because of the traffic on track. Everybody was putting new tyres on and it was a bit of a mess", she said.
"I was P19 but with my theoretical lap I would be up to P12 again, so it was again a positive session".
"This is how Monza is, everybody is looking for the slipstream, so we have to see in qualifying tomorrow. If I just put everything together and I focus on getting a good gap and trust myself I think it can be really good."
Michael Belov (MP Motorsport) led the timesheets at the end of Friday practice, followed by Mari Boya (ART GP) and Paul Aron (Prema). Léna Buhler is also making a return to FRECA, as she will contest her second season with French team R-Ace GP. The Swiss racer was P36 and P33 in the two practice sessions, with over 30 cars in 2 seconds and drivers separated by thousandths of a second throughout the pack.
The first qualifying of the weekend - and of the 2022 season - will get underway on Saturday 23rd at 09:40 local. Race 1 is scheduled for 16:00.