FRECA: Hamda Al Qubaisi tops personal best in rainy Red Bull Ring
After narrowly missing out on her first Top-20 on Saturday before contact in awful weather conditions, Hamda Al Qubaisi made up for it on Sunday, when she had a great recovery to claim her personal best finish in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine.
The eighth round of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine season started with rainstorms and difficult conditions - but turned out to be a rather positive one for Hamda Al Qubaisi, driver of the #88 Prema Powerteam Tatuus.
The Emirati racer, at her first season in F3 cars, Al Qubaisi has focused her efforts on one of the most competitive junior single-seater championships in the world - and is making constant progress weekend after weekend.
After the Paul Ricard round, Al Qubaisi has been steadily climbing the order and showing improved pace and fighting spirit in the races. She had a very strong round in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, where she made good progress in qualifying as well - but an unlucky contact in race 2 prevented her from improving her personal best finish in the races.
The Austrian Red Bull Ring - a scenic facility in the Syrian mountains - the young Emirati has historically been fast in F4 machinery, having made her European debut in 2019 and scoring her first points the following season. Despite the awful weather, Hamda was once again eyeing a good result, after being announced to take part in the upcoming FIA F3 female-oriented test.
Joining Al Qubaisi in Austria was W Series racer and karting star Tereza Babickova, also part of the FIA F3 testing line up. The Czech driver was in fact looking to gain more experience at the wheel of the Tatuus T318 car ahead of the final W Series rounds of the season and joined G4 Racing for a one-off appearance in FRECA.
Both Hamda and Tereza were part of the first qualifying group on Saturday morning; Hamda matched her best qualifying and was P12 in Group A, which resulted in a positive start from P22, while Babickova would line up in P31 for her first ever race in the championship.
A huge downpour as the cars went on the grid forced a Safety Car start on Saturday afternoon. Paul Aron led an impressive Eduardo Barrichello from the front row, but conditions remained awful and visibility very poor in the midfield.
As Sebastian Montoya spun on the main straight, everyone tried to take evasive action: unfortunately, Tereza Babickova couldn't avoid her teammate Gillian Henrion and had to retire. The incident brought out the red flag, as Babickova was attended by marshals and doctors.
"After the crash Tereza was transported to the medical center and, while she didn’t suffer any major physical problem, she was declared unfit for race 2 and she will no longer take part to the rest of the weekend", read G4 Racing's statement after the race.
Hopefully, Babickova will make a prompt recovery from this unfortunate incident and will be back on track soon.
The race resumed with 23 minutes to go, as the rain had eased. Cars rolled down pit lane again behind the Safety Car, but conditions remained tricky. Yet, a few drivers attempted to go on slicks as the green flag waved: among them, Hadrien David and race leader Paul Aron gambled on the slick tyre.
Barrichello was soon passed by Pierre-Louis Chovet and Dino Beganovic, with also Kas Haverkort making up positions. Hamda Al Qubaisi struggled initially, but then had a great charge up the field once the grip conditions quickly improved: on the drying track, the Emirati passed Armanni and Tramnitz, advancing to P21.
The drivers on slicks were approximately two seconds per lap faster than the front-runners, but it was soon clear that they would not be able to contend for victory in the little time remaining without a Safety Car.
The Safety Car indeed arrived when Montoya and Aron made contact and took each other out; the two lap showdown, though, brought more drama when a second rain downpour mixed the order once again: unfortunately, Hamda Al Qubaisi was looking strong for her first top-20 finish but dropped down to P30 after contact.
Haverkort made the pass for the win at Turn 3 and claimed an impressive victory from P14 on the grid. Joshua Dufek was also on the move and snatched second on the final lap, in a Van Amersfoort Racing 1-2.
"Coming into this weekend after a long break, it was all about getting a good feeling with the car again and getting back into the rhythm", Hamda explained. "I was quite happy with qualifying on Saturday. However, unfortunately, because of the weather conditions, the race didn’t go so well."
On a dry Sunday afternoon, Hadrien David and Dino Beganovic shared the front row for Race 2, after the morning qualifying. Al Qubaisi wasn't particularly pleased with her Q2 and was P15 in her group, which put her P30 on the starting grid.
At lights out, David and Beganovic had a great getaway, while Dufek defended from Tangavelou in third. Hamda lost a few positions at the start after she had to avoid the stalling car of Baptiste.
The Safety Car was soon deployed when Roman Bilinksi and Esteban Masson went off.
The race resumed on lap 5, but it was only a matter of a few corners before the Alpine A110 pace car was out again: MP Motorsport's teammates Dilano Van't Hoff and Mari Boya made contact and ended up beached in the gravel of Turn 4.
David had a perfect restart and pulled away from Beganovic; Aron and Tramnitz pushed each other on the gravel but both could continue. From P29, Hamda Al Qubaisi started a brilliant recovery that saw the 20-year-old Emirati climbing up to P25 - and then P24 on the final lap of the race.
R-Ace GP's Hadrien David took his third victory of the season, ahead of Dino Beganovic and Joshua Dufek. With 24th place, Hamda Al Qubaisi topped her previous best result in the series after a great comeback.
"On Sunday it was a bit difficult to get a good lap in qualy and I wasn’t really happy with my performance", she recalled. "On the other hand, I was able to make up a few positions in the race and finished with my best result so far."
"A big thank you to the team for the support all weekend and looking forward to the next one", she concluded.
Round 9 will be contested in a month's time at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, on 15-16 October. But before that, Hamda will hit the track on Friday 16th September at Circuit Magny Cours, where she will test for the first time the Dallara FIA F3 car as part of a programme to facilitate access of female drivers on the F1 ladder.