"With the adrenaline, I don't feel it. I want to win and I push like hell. But in the end when I am out of the car that's when I start feeling pain" - 75 days is the time that separated Hamda Al Qubaisi's hospitalization with a shattered arm to her return to the top step of the podium, in an extraordinary story of pure determination.
Hamda Al Qubaisi's return to the top step of the podium will go down as one of the great sporting achievements of the year. Valencia's first F1 Academy race marked a milestone in a career of a driver that has made history and set new records at every stage of her career: for Hamda Al Qubaisi, breaking barriers has been a day job in the last few years. Yet, this victory – her seventh in Formula 4 machinery, an all time record globally for female drivers – feels even more special. Al Qubaisi, who made her debut in race cars in 2019 in a part time programme in Italian F4, before stepping up full time the following season, has battled the best drivers in the world in F4. And she held her own: an outright podium in Italian F4 – the first ever for a female driver, in one of the championships that truly separates good drivers from the champions of tomorrow - six wins and 19 podiums in the UAE-based series. And it was also in that championship that she would face one of the most difficult moments in her career, when a serious accident at the final race of the 2023 season left Hamda with a shattered arm – just as she was preparing for her debut in the brand-new F1 Academy championship. An opportunity that Hamda was eager to grab. It is February 19th, and F4 UAE is rounding out its season at YAS Marina, Al Qubaisi's home race. A track that she has always loved, and where both Hamda and her sister Amna claimed their first wins in race cars. Hamda is running well within the top 10, in one of the strongest fields in the history of junior formulae. On the final lap, a car in front spins at Turn 13 under the hotel – and Hamda can't do anything to avoid the impact, clipping the back of the other car and hitting the outside wall hard. The race immediately ends under red flag, as an ambulance assists Hamda. While there's still little information on her conditions, her sister Amna keeps us informed. It is soon clear that Hamda has suffered a bad fracture in her wrist – an unfortunately common injury for racing drivers in formula cars, where the direct steering wheel transfers the energy to the driver's arms. In Hamda's case, though, the damage is rather severe. In an Instagram story by her sister, Hamda is seen asking if she got to keep points in the final race, while being hospitalized. Her wrist and radius were put back into place, and a titanium plate inserted with a lengthy surgery in the following days. From there, Hamda's race against time was on to return behind the wheel. When she shows us her x-rays on her phone screen at Red Bull Ring, it becomes immediately clear how huge of an achievement it is to see her back in a car. There were tough moments in her recovery, both physically and mentally. There would be no racing for at least four months, she was told. No ordinary person would gain back mobility in the arm before, let alone wrestle a single seater at speed, in a sport where upper-body strength is so crucial with modern formula cars. But Hamda Al Qubaisi is no ordinary person. The 20 year-old Emirati is one of those sportspeople able to inspire a generation and, with the brand-new F1 Academy championship approaching, she worked day in and day out to restore the necessary mobility, pushing through pain.
On her first day in the car at Barcelona, Al Qubaisi was only assessing the conditions of her arm - which was still not quite in great shape. One week later at Paul Ricard, though, things improved, as she experimented with ways to use her other arm more to steer the car. Coming into Red Bull Ring for the season opener, Hamda topped the times in free practice. Despite an incredibly unfortunate qualifying marked by an engine issue that forced her to start from the back in all races, she completed 26 overtakes across the races to finish second in Race 3. Hamda was back. "It's a lot improved now. I struggled so much with the maximum movement, it's the wrist that it's stuck, but it will just take time", she tells us. "The doctors told me it was like a jigsaw puzzle to put together. It was so shattered - the ligaments, everything was destroyed." "The fact that I'm even driving now is a miracle. It's good that I've got everything back, my movement is coming back, which is important." At Valencia, Al Qubaisi made headlines with an outstanding victory in race 1 – at her first time not starting from the back of the pack. "I didn't expect to win or to be at the front, because I don't know this track, it was my first time here. The Spanish championship comes here but I always did the Italian F4 and FRECA, so I came here for the first time and I was straight away immediately on pace. I kinda like it to be honest, but the track limits were the big issue", she explains, after a weekend where the track limits were the big talking point. "I already had the pace since practice, but with the track limits, honestly it was confusing", she continues. "I know it's the white line, but you know how drivers are, we want to be on the limit to be fast. But I did try to keep it on track, and I was still fast trying to keep it on the track. I had P2 for the first race." "On the second one, I had no times at all". All laps set by the MP Motorsport driver were in fact deleted, with many drivers incurring in the same issue. "It was really really by little. I tried to be on the limit, but it was really a little on the exit of Turn 11. But the fact is that it happened and I had to deal with it, so I focused on the two races where I started in position, and made sure to make the most out of it – which I think I did." Her injury was also not helping her in regards to track limits: "I struggled so much because with my arm I tend to take the easy way and let the car go, because it helps my arm. The fact that I had to hold it in, was what I struggled with. That's the biggest factor why almost all my laps got deleted in Q2." After a great start, Al Qubaisi took the lead and never looked back. While Nerea Martí could keep up in the first stages, Hamda eventually pulled away, winning in dominant fashion in the first race of the weekend. "It was amazing", she describes. "I had a 7 second gap, at the end I couldn't even see her anymore in the mirrors. I kept it safe within the track limits at all times and still got the fastest lap, which is another point", she highlights. "I got the point for fastest lap also in the short race, while always keeping it on track, that gives me a lot of confidence, especially for the upcoming races. I know that in Barcelona track limits won't be an issue, here it was for sure and they were strict with it."
In parc fermé, Al Qubaisi raised her hands to celebrate the win and, in an iconic moment, pointed to her injured arm: in that moment, Hamda knew that she had just done something remarkable and, in a trouble-free weekend, she would be hard to beat.
"I think if I have a full on perfect weekend I can get to the top of the championship for sure.
If I'm starting at the front, I'm definitely staying at the front", she jokes.
Hamda has always been an extraordinary driver – and her progression in some of the toughest championships prove that. But it's also quite noticeable how the accident has changed her mentally; this is a new Hamda, with a renewed self-confidence and much more aware of her potential. From perfect starts to bold passes, her attitude on track screams confidence: after all, she defied all odds just to be back in a race car and there won't be anything holding her back – even if the pain is still there.
"With the adrenaline, you know, I don't feel it. I want to win and I push like hell, I want to stay in front even when I have a big gap – you know how I am", she says smiling. "But in the end when I am out of the car that's when I start feeling pain - and I feel I shouldn't have pushed so much."
"This time that they splitted the races into two days it was better for my arm. If it was all in one day I would have struggled a lot, because after the first race I had a lot of pain in the arm", she adds, mentioning the schedule change in Valencia compared to the Austrian weekend.
"For race 2 I decided to take it a bit easier – and then I didn't, because I want to make up positions and get points. So I deal with the pain."
With another recovery drive, Hamda went from seventh to third in the 20 minute race 2, scoring her third podium of the season. But it was race 3 where she had the most positions to gain, after the qualifying penalties.
"In race 3 I started at the back and I had nothing to lose. I just focused on getting some points, I didn't want to crash out and get zero points, so I made the most out of my starts", she recalls. "I had a really good start again, made up four positions already off the line, so it was really good. Then a few mistakes from other drivers in front allowed me to get past."
Hamda and her sister Amna – who also took a win and a third place already this year – have worked as a team since the first round. While chasing big points as well, Amna has not fought her sister and facilitated a move on more than one occasion.
"With my sister we work together as a team", Hamda comments. "She knew I was faster and she let me by. We're working together and we know how to work together. We don't hold each other back and if she's ever faster I will always let her pass as well. I want to thank her for that again, it's the second time she did this for me."
After two rounds, Hamda Al Qubaisi is now second in the championship standings, 26 points behind leader Marta García.
"I'm second in the championship now. If I had a very good weekend at Red Bull Ring, I'd be much closer with the points, but you know it's a long championship. I'll just make sure I finish every race, get the maximum points possible and avoid mistakes."
After a two test days at Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday, cars will hit the track for the third round at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, on 20-21 May