FRECA: Hamda Al Qubaisi continues learning season with good race pace at Zandvoort
Hamda Al Qubaisi had a positive fifth round of the FRECA season, where the young Emirati made good improvements in the races after difficult qualifying sessions and climbed to P27 in race 2 on a demanding track like Zandvoort.
Two weeks ago, Hamda Al Qubaisi scored her best result of the season so far in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine at Circuit Paul Ricard, as the young Emirati is contesting her first full season in F3 machinery.
Hamda, racing for Prema Powerteam, is having a learning-oriented season and improving weekend after weekend, having stepped into one of the most competitive junior championships in Europe after a remarkable 2021 campaign in Italian F4.
At Zandvoort, Netherlands, FRECA reached the half-way point in its 2022 season: after the season opener at Monza, the series then travelled to Imola, the street circuit of Monaco and Le Castellet. Among a field of over 30 cars - and almost 40 entries in some of the rounds - Hamda Al Qubaisi has shown good progression from free practice to the races and continued to significantly improve her lap times. On a circuit she had previously raced on, she had her most solid weekend at Paul Ricard and is looking to make even more steps into the second half of the season.
With the big FRECA field divided into Group A and Group B for the new qualifying format, Al Qubaisi qualified in 17th place in Group B on Saturday - which put her ahead of Piotr Wisnicki amd Cenyu Han for the first race of the weekend.
Paul Aron (Prema) scored pole position by topping the second group, lining up alongside Hadrien David (R-Ace GP) who was fastest in Group A.
At lights out, Aron led David and home hero Kas Haverkort after one lap, as the Dutchman got ahead of Gabriele Minì at the start. From 33rd on the grid, Hamda Al Qubaisi held position. She would gain a position when Gabriel Bortoleto (R-Ace GP) tumbled down the order and eventually retired after contact with Esteban Masson. It was the Brazilian's first DNF since the beginning of his FRECA career.
In a track notoriously difficult to pass on, Hamda Al Qubaisi closed in on Han - before an unfortunate spin at Turn 9 put her down the order.
Mari Boya and Sebastian Montoya traded places for ninth and the Spaniard eventually went through after montoya was wide into the banked Turn 3; similarly, Haverkort was also under pressure from Minì - with Dino Beganovic increasingly catching up with the duo.
With approximately 17 seconds to close to catch back the pack, Hamda Al Qubaisi lapped on competitive lap times when in clean air - and had the chance to close in on the pack when the Safety Car was deployed with 10 minutes left, as the #65 RPM of Keith Donegan spin into the gravel on lap 15. Before the neutralization, Aron and David had pulled away and the Frenchman was starting to put pressure on the race leader.
When Joshua Durksen hit trouble, Hamda Al Qubaisi advanced to P31 and - with now 1 minute left after the restart - tried to hunt down Cenyu Han for the top-30.
Aron had a great restart and David had to watch his mirrors from Haverkort; Dufek overtook Bernier at Turn 1 and, amidst more chaos in the midfield, Michael Belov had a big save after a contact but kept it on track.
Aron took his third win of the season, ahead of Hadrien David and Kas Haverkort. Gabriele Minì had to settle for fourth and preceded Dino Beganovic and Joshua Dufek - the latter taking his first rookie win.
A post race penalty, though, demoted both David and Dufek, who were found to have used their push-to-pass too early.
On the final lap, Hamda Al Qubaisi did manage to overtake Cenyu Han and was 30th across the finish line, after a good recovery from her spin.
In a Prema 1-2-3, Aron and Beganovic locked out the front row, ahead of Sebastian Montoya - who had claimed the rookie win in Race 1 after Dufek's penalty. The Estonian had another perfect launch and led Beganovic into Turn 1, while Gabriele Minì passed Montoya. Second-placed on Saturday, Kas Haverkort damaged his front wing on the first lap and dropped down. Despite having to avoid a staller on the grid, Hamda Al Qubaisi was held P33 at the end of the first lap - but an accident between Masson and Delli Guanti soon brought out the red flag. After wheel to wheel contact at Turn 2, Delli Guanti's car rolled several times into the gravel and jumped over the TecPro barrier, coming to a halt upside down. Luckily, the Italian racer was unharmed and got out of the car assisted by the marshals and medical personnel that were quickly on the scene. The race could then resume behind the Safety Car; Aron was back underway in the lead, but behind him there was action all through the field: Mari Boya attacked Joshua Dufek at Turn 1, as the Swiss racer ran out of road and had to go through the gravel. Axel Gnos lost momentum and several positions, with also Hamda Al Qubaisi in the mix trying to pass the G4 Racing driver. Meanwhile, Minì had passed Beganovic around the outside of Turn 1 with a great move for second place - with Montoya ready to pick up the pieces from the battle for the podium. Aron, though, had checked out and opened an over 3 second gap to his pursuers. Both Durksen and Haverkort - who had the chance to fix his front wing during the red flag - were protagonists of impressive recoveries from the back of the pack and were both back in the top-20. With two laps to go, Montoya had his rear-view mirrors full of Fornaroli, in a heated battle for the rookie win. The Colombian, though, held off the pressure and finished ahead, as Paul Aron took a back-to-back victory in Race 2, ahead of Gabriele Minì and Dino Beganovic. After contact on the final lap between Bilinski and Boya, Joshua Dufek rounded out the top 10. With a battling second race, Hamda Al Qubaisi was in the group and had good race pace. She was classified P27 after a solid second race in a very demanding circuit like Zandvoort. "For this race weekend I knew that it would be tough physically, and so I struggled a bit in qualifying, which put us at the back for the races", she commented. "However, in terms of race pace, I was quite happy with the improvements, and I was able to gain some positions in the race overall." "I have a lot of work to do with the team, and will keep working to improve", concluded the Emirati talent. Hamda, 19, had a similar progression in F4, when she learned the tracks and machinery in 2020, before becoming a regular presence in the top-10 in 2021. We can likely expect a similar learning curve in her F3 career. The series now heads to Hungaroring in two week's time, on July 9-10 for the sixth round of the season.