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Hamda Al Qubaisi: "I’m still pushing, I still have high hopes and anything can happen"

Technical issues hampered Hamda Al Qubaisi's third round of the F1 Academy season at Barcelona - but the young Emirati has certainly no intention of giving up on her championship ambitions, with four rounds still to go. Here's Hamda's summary of the past weekend, through her eyes.

Photo: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Hamda Al Qubaisi was undeniably the star of the second F1 Academy round in Valencia, where she scored the most points than anyone and launched her title bid after her first win of the season – merely 75 days after surgery for a serious arm fracture. Al Qubaisi, already a race winner in F4UAE, was closing in on championship leader Marta Garcia - despite the Spainard's three wins out of the first six races – and, importantly, was starting to put pressure on the Prema driver.

Hamda, 20, headed to Barcelona with little data, as she had basically missed the first pre-season collective test due to her injury. While the young Emirati did complete a few laps, they were only aimed at assessing the conditions of her arm – which turned out not to be in perfect form yet.

While her conditions improved at Paul Ricard just one week later, Al Qubaisi was left with little data from the Barcelona track – and especially no information on the behaviour of the car on new tyres, a particularly crucial point to prepare for qualifying in F1 Academy's tyre restrictions.

Nevertheless, as soon as Hamda hit the track on Friday it was immediately clear that the MP Motorsport driver had all intentions to carry momentum into the third triple-header of the season, as she led for practice sessions in quite dominant fashion – while her main rival Marta Garcia was struggling with understeer on the very old tyre and had seemingly not found the same pace she showed at the previous races.

“The weekend started off really well with P1 in practice", Hamda told us, as she recapped her weekend at Circuit de Catalunya. "I know it’s just free practice, but it was meaningful for me because I didn’t do the pre-season tests [at Barcelona], so for me to already be on pace was good."

"Then we went into qualifying with a good mindset – and I overdrived a little bit", she continued. "With these tyres you really only have two laps to do it, and again I didn’t put new sets in pre-season tests because of my arm, so I didn’t know what I could do and what I could not do, it was a bit difficult for me to understand", Hamda explained.

The qualifying sessions, though, turned out to be even closer than usual, with four cars within one tenth of a second in Q1. Al Qubaisi was fourth fastest, thousands from the car ahead.

"It was only that one tenth that could have put me on pole", Hamda continued. "But anyway, it still was a top five for both sessions, I was P4 in the first one and P2 in the second one, but always less than a tenth."

In yet another highly competitive Q2, Al Qubaisi made it to the front row, 35 thousand behind Léna Bühler, at her first pole position.

Photo: Racers - Behind the Helmet

Race 1 was shaping up to be yet another podium for Hamda, as another of her strong starts gained her third place, passing Abbi Pulling. While she initially challenged her teammate and pole sitter Emely de Heus for second place, Al Qubaisi would lose pace mid way through the race and fell into the clutches of Pulling due to a technical issue. The problem eventually intensified and Al Qubaisi lost third, then pitted with a gearbox failure on lap 11.

It was a big blow in terms of championship points, as Garcia scored a third place following the retirement of race leader Léna Bühler for yet another gearbox issue.

"In the race, with the mechanical issue, I lost so many points and I feel in a way that it’s not fair, because luck wasn’t really on our side; losing points like this is really difficult because then I have to make up for it and it’s even harder" – a disappointed Hamda commented.

The MP Motorsport crew worked extra hard to get the car ready in time for race 2, which was set to get underway just a few hours later. The #4 machine did make the grid, as Al Qubaisi was eager to recover from fifth on the reverse-grid shorter race. But, after a few meters, it was soon clear that the issue was still partially there.

"In the second race I had an issue with the gearbox again in the first few laps – they had changed everything and I think it took a while to get used to. I had a problem at the start and went from third to fourth, got stuck on the limiter and didn’t want to shift. It was just a big disaster with the gearboxes", she recalled.

"I was just trying to keep my cool and perform anyway."

And that's what the Emirati did, salvaging a fifth place finish following a good battle with Léna Bühler, who had recovered from seventh, and ahead of Nerea Marti, who dropped down from second place following yet another gearbox failure.

On Sunday morning, Al Qubaisi had one more chance to score big points, starting from the front row alongside Bühler and just ahead of Garcia.

"Going into the third one, I was starting P2, with the worst tyres of anyone next to me, so it was difficult because I knew they had new sets and would probably be faster than me in the first laps", Hamda said.

"I tried to get past Léna in the first corner, but I was on the outside and I knew it was risky – I didn't want to end up with zero points in the end. Again, I know it’s not ideal and I want to win, but it’s better to go home with 18 than 0 points", she wisely stated, bringing home a valuable second place in the third and final race of the weekend.

While Garcia bagged the most points of anyone at Barcelona, Hamda Al Qubaisi remains solidly in second place in the standings and, despite a 41 point deficit, with four rounds and 12 races still to go, anything can happen in the title fight.

"I’m still pushing, I still have high hopes and anything can happen – there are still four rounds left."

"We’ll now go back to the MP headquarters, see what happened with the car and make sure it doesn’t happen again for the next rounds. In Zandvoort it’s going to be the home race for the team, so we want to do well there."

"The track is very physical as well, so it’s a good track to see who can perform – it’s old school", Hamda commented, having raced at the Dutch circuit in both F4 and F3 Regional machinery, with two 12th place finishes in the 2021 ADAC F4 series as her best results.

"Zandvoort is nice – it’s very physical, but it’s nice. In F4 I did well there, so I hope we can do the same in F1 Academy.”

Photo: Racers - Behind the Helmet


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