Hamda Al Qubaisi continued her very positive progression at the iconic Spa Francorchamps, seventh round of the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine, where the young Emirati significantly improved in qualifying pace.
A sunny Circuit of Spa Francorchamps hosted the seventh round of the 2022 Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine season, with the 34 young up-and-coming talents facing the challenges of this iconic track's technicalities and difficulties in a much anticipated weekend.
The on-track action began one day earlier as usual due to the category being a support race to the main event of the weekend: the 24H of Spa, one of the most popular endurance races in the world.
Hamda Al Qubaisi, at her first season in the series, had already shown promising results during the previous rounds, learning and improving lap by lap in the Tatuus 318 Formula 3 Regional car. During the previous round in Hungary, Al Qubaisi managed to finish in P26, her best result to date, in a circuit she had never driven before. The Emirati has good reasons to be happy about the progression in her rookie season.
And her weekend at Spa - another new circuit for the young Prema driver - started on a high, with the 13th best lap time in the second practice session. Hamda quickly showed improvements from the first session, where was 26th fastest.
"I was very happy with the pace in practice and qualifying" - Hamda said. "Coming into the weekend it was all new to me as I had never been to this track, so it was another learning curve", she explained.
Hamda qualified 12th in her group and, thanks to the penalties handed to Hadrien David (R-ACE GP) and Gabriel Bortoleto (R-ACE GP) because of engine changes, she started Race 1 from the 22nd spot of the grid. Her teammate Dino Beganovic was the fastest of the session, followed by Minì (ART Grand Prix) and Aron (Prema Powerteam).
As soon as the lights went out, Beganovic managed to maintain his lead and defended from Mini's attempts to overtake him, while the rest of the pack had an untroubled race. While battling with Paul Aron, Sebastian Montoya (Prema Powerteam) off roaded into the gravel and lost many positions, but thankfully he could rejoin the track safely.
Hamda got off to a great start, held her position and defended from two of the most impressive drivers of the grid - Gabriel Bortoleto and Laurens Van Hoepen (ART Grand Prix), while catching up with Zagazeta (G4 Racing) in front of her.
Later, she would unfortunately lose some positions while battling with Sebastian Montoya and Pietro Delli Guanti (RPM), but still showed good racecraft in the battles and her usual fighting spirit throughout the whole race.
Ahead, Beganovic maintained his lead, followed by Minì and the battling duo of Paul Aron and Sami Meguetounif (MP Motorsport), first among the rookies. With eleven minutes to go, Nicola Marinangeli's Monolite Racing car came to a halt on the side of the Kemmel straight: even if he was initially able to restart, the issues persisted at turn 9 and he was forced to retire.
While everyone was busy watching the thrilling battle between Roman Bilinski (Trident) and Joshua Dufek (Van Amersfoort Racing), Gabriele Minì had to retire due to technical gremlins, promoting on the virtual podium Meguetounif and Eduardo Barrichello (Arden) who had just overtaken Paul Aron. A few moments after his retirement, the red flag was waved due to Victor Bernier spinning on the last lap of the race.
Dino Beganovic won the race, followed by Gabriele Minì, as the red flag brought the results back to the lap before, and Sami Meguetounif. Hamda crossed the finish line in 26th position, after some engaging duels with Joshua Duerksen (Arden) and Matias Zagazeta.
Few hours after the race, Gabriele Minì was disqualified due to technical irregularities and lots of drivers were handed a 5 second penalty for red flag infringement: luckily, Hamda was able to maintain her classification.
"I struggled with the pace a bit, but as soon as I started to understand the car more, it was easier, and I really found pace towards the end." - Al Qubaisi revealed.
Just a few hours before the start of the 24 hours race on Saturday morning, Estonian Paul Aron started from the pole position in Race 2, followed by Hadrien David - with a brand new engine - and championship leader Dino Beganovic. Al Qubaisi set the 12th fastest lap in her group and lined up 23rd on the grid for Race 2, showing yet again her improvements in qualifying's pace.
Paul Aron had an amazing start and preceded the impressive Hadrien David - who immediately tried to pass the Prema driver. Even if their battle was definitely worth watching, midfield drama was the most disruptive: Esteban Masson - who switched to ART Grand Prix this weekend - had a contact with Noel Leon (Arden Motorsport) and then hit KIC Motorsport driver Santiago Ramos' car; the latter spun and almost hit the pit wall.
Other three drivers were involved and unfortunately Hamda was caught in the middle of it, together with Lorenzo Fluxa (R-ACE GP) and Pietro Armanni (Monolite Racing). The faultless Hamda was in fact hit by Noel Leon and sustained front suspension damage. The young Emirati limped back to the pits but had to retire her car - in what was otherwise one of her most promising weekends.
"In race 2 I was confident with the car and tyres", she said. "I felt like I could do a good race but I got caught in contact and it was out of my hands, I couldn’t control what happened to me." Hamda concluded.
The Safety car was deployed and led the first ten minutes of the race. As soon as the race resumed, Paul Aron lost second place to his teammate Beganovic and Gabriel Bortoleto, while Eduardo Barrichello brilliantly overtook Tim Tramnitz at Les Combes. One lap later, the Brazilian's move was replicated by his fellow countryman Gabriel Bortoleto, who stripped Dinjo Beganovic of second place.
Championship contender Gabriele Minì started from 10th place on the grid but managed to complete a remarkable charge: he would finish the race in sixth position, after some great passes on Owen Tangavelou (RPM) and Mari Boya (who also changed team ahead of this round, moving from ART Grand Prix to MP Motorsport).
With only two minutes left of the clock, Piotr Wisnicki spun into the gravel at Pouhon and triggered the second Safety Car interruption: the race ended with Hadrien David on the first step of the podium, followed by Gabriel Bortoleto and Dino Beganovic. David was later penalized, having overtakook Paul Aron under yellow flags conditions - and handed Bortoleto his maiden win.
Hamda's impressive job in practice and qualifying showed how much she's learning and improving during this season: "I quickly fell in love with the track and had the pace immediately", she recalled. "I’m really happy about the weekend and I think that we can work forward for Red Bull Ring", she satisfactorily stated.
Historically, Al Qubaisi has always been fast at the Austrian track in Formula 4 - which also was the venue of her first ever race in single seaters in Europe.
Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine will now return to the track after the summer break, on the second weekend of September for its eighth round of the season.