We look back on the season of young Emirati racing star Hamda Al Qubaisi – from the historical and season-defining podium, to the point-scoring weekends that marked a remarkable development in one of the toughest junior series.
It was a grey and rainy day when she first raced in Monza; it was only her second ever race in formula cars and joined her sister Amna on the grid of one of the world's top feeder series with the aim of preparing for a full season debut in 2020. Hamda Al Qubaisi, 17 at the time, looked like on her first day of school, eager to learn from her sister and all the other drivers all the secrets of the craft. Fast forward one season – after a learning-oriented year, Al Qubaisi had scored points on two occasions – at Red Bull Ring and Monza, having made great progress despite difficult weather conditions throughout the late-starting season due to the pandemic challenges. Hamda – at her first international campaign – had in fact little experience of racing in wet conditions but logged laps and kilometres and, with two Top-10 finishes, she proved to be one of the most interesting female prospects in single-seaters. Al Qubaisi's second season in Italian F4 followed the UAE-based winter series, where on home soil Hamda took seven podiums and three victories, becoming the most successful woman ever in F4 championships worldwide. She joined top-team Prema Powerteam and immediately showed potential to finish in the top ten in every round. Despite an unlucky weekend in Paul Ricard - where she nevertheless had pace to score points -– Al Qubaisi had her big breakthrough at Misano. "The second round of the F4 Italian Championship at Misano was definitely an important weekend for me" – she said. "Coming into the weekend we had quite a good pace and I qualified P5 and P7 for Q1 and Q2 – which also gave me a start from sixth for race 3 – so it was a very good quali, my best ever in the series. It was already a confidence boost and it gave me good motivation and big confidence." It was the best ever qualifying result for a woman in the series. "Going into race 1, all I had to do was stay with the guys at the front and finish in a good position. I don't know how, but I finished P3 in race 1. I pushed to the limit and I made sure to finish in the top three. I really did my best to be there, so I definitely worked hard for it." "Of course, I'm also happy to be there raising the flag of the UAE - to be the first female to get a podium in the F4 Italian Championship is something I'd never thought I would be the one doing." – she added.
Hamda's result gave her confidence and also earned her the respect of all the other drivers on track. She carried momentum into Vallelunga, where the young Emirati was again on top of her game in qualifying and finished seventh in Race 3. "I had a good pace all weekend and put up some great battles", she recalled at the third round of the season. "In race 2 I was fighting around P7 before I made a mistake that cost me the race. However, I was able to bounce back for race 3, and get a P7 from P11." In Imola, Al Qubaisi was met with a challenging weekend but, despite stalling on the grid, she was still able to charge back and gain several positions. In Race 3, she had some redemption and fought again for points. "I think I went into the [third] race with less pressure and knowing that I had nothing to lose, I made up good positions and had a positive race", she explained. As the season progressed, weather started again to play a bigger role. Hamda came into the Red Bull Ring weekend with high expectations, having historically finished well at the Austrian venue. Colder temperatures in the early morning, though, resulted in tricky qualifying sessions and a few contacts in the races made for a difficult round. “I’m still learning a lot – last year [at Red Bull Ring] was one of my best of the season, so coming back I came with too many expectations and right now, seeing the result is not really what I want." – she reflected. She had battled a flatspot in race 1 and still finished in the Top-20 in a wet race 3 after a good recovery. Bad luck continued at Mugello, where she couldn't capitalise one her pace in qualifying, leaving her in the mix of a closely-fought field in the races. She was pushed out in race 1, but still had the chance to battle hard in the midfield and improve in the wheel-to-wheel action that often defines a competitive series like Italian F4. "In race 2 and 3 I think I had a good pace at the beginning and had some good battles", said Hamda. "While I didn’t maximise my potential, I’m taking the positives out of each weekend". And indeed her hard work allowed her to take home important lessons from every round, with yet another point-scoring ending at Monza. Consistently in the top-end of the timing sheets in testing, Al Qubaisi had a strong qualifying at the Temple of Speed – her second best of the year – and started all three races from the Top-10.
“I was really happy about it; I was so frustrated that I couldn’t show this in the last few rounds, but I know I still had it in me." – she commented. Hamda returned to the Top-10 having been forced to a charge after dropping back in the opening laps. It was a fitting end to a very positive season. "When I finally clicked I was able to make it from P17 up to P10 again", she summed up. “I think if I hadn’t done those first few laps probably I would have been around the top-six or seven. Anyway it was a good result in the end, scoring points again.” The second and third races were again hampered by wet and mixed weather conditions – a territory where Hamda still has room for improvement. "I am not so used to this weather and not so confident in - and starting so far in front you have that pressure already. You need some kind of brain switch-on in these types of conditions." "Maybe I take a whole winter in England or something like that to practice more in the wet", she joked. "Overall I'm happy with the season – it all went so fast and I'm so happy about the support from Prema and my sponsors Strata and Kaspersky Lab. They always had faith in me to bring in the results, and that's one thing I'm really grateful for." Having taken tons of experience out of her second season in Italian F4, Hamda Al Qubaisi can make her return to the UAE to prepare for her next challenges with her head held high: she finished with 24 points and proved to be competitive throughout the championship, cutting her teeth in the toughest series. Being away from home and her family due to the travel complexities in and out of Europe certainly made everything more difficult in the last two years. But, as she told us after Misano, "hard work and dedication will pay off".