Hat-trick in Zandvoort race 1 puts Hamda Al Qubaisi back in the title fight
With two pole positions, a fastest lap and a dominant victory, Hamda Al Qubaisi is back in the title fight after a dramatic first race in Zandvoort which saw the first retirement of championship leader Marta García.
If the perfect day would exist, this would take the shape of Hamda Al Qubaisi's Saturday at Zandvoort: with two pole positions, a fastest lap and a dominant start-to-flag victory, the young Emirati has curtailed the gap from 41 to 11 points in the drivers' championship – capitalizing on her main rival's first retirement of the season.
Coming off an unlucky round at Barcelona – where she lost a podium finish to a gearbox failure in race 1 – Hamda Al Qubaisi knew she would need to maximize every opportunity in every race entering the second half of the season. And this is what she did on Saturday at Zandvoort – a very technical and physically demanding circuit that on paper would be even extra challenging for her recovering injured arm. But the 20 year old Emirati star is not one to give up easily.
Scoring a double pole position in the morning, Hamda was in the best possible position to capitalize in Race 1: she would need to keep the fast Léna Bühler at bay – as the Swiss racer proved to be Hamda's closest competitor this weekend so far - and keep pulling away.
Due to an issue with the starting lights the race had to get underway behind the Safety Car: Al Qubaisi had a good rolling start on lap 2 and held the lead from Buhler, Martí and García, with the whole pack making it unscathed from the first lap under green. Abbi Pulling managed to get ahead of Lola Lovinfosse and started her charge up the field after two challenging qualifying sessions in the morning.
Ahead, Al Qubaisi was pulling away from Bühler, gaining 2 seconds in the first two laps. García also had to make up for a tricky qualifying and passed her compatriot Martí on lap 3 for third place; more position changes just behind saw Jess Edgar finding a way past Emely de Heus to get within the top five.
Pulling was on a mission and passed her Rodin Carlin teammate Gilkes, then Bianca Bustamante - who was running close behind Amna Al Qubaisi, in a very compact midfield. Her sister Hamda, though, kept chipping away, despite a few fast sectors from Buhler - who had opened a small gap to García. Hamda responded and set the fastest lap of the race on lap 10, extending her gap to 3 seconds.
Abbi Pulling clearly had pace and was glued to the back of the #6 MP Motorsport machine of Amna Al Qubaisi; Pulling would get ahead on lap 11, gaining seventh place after a dramatic moment for the championship: from third place, Marta García was out of the race - in her first non-point scoring race of the season.
Breaking a four-race podium streak, Marta pulled to the side of the track and parked her car on lap 11, having suffered a fuel pump issue.
Now third, Nerea Martí had a second to defend her podium from Jessica Edgar – arguably in one of her best weekends to date. Abbi Pulling meanwhile had Carrie Schreiner in her target – the German also enjoying good pace at Zandvoort. Despite the pressure, Schreiner made no mistakes.
After 17 laps, Hamda Al Qubaisi took a very important victory, five seconds ahead of the always solid Léna Bühler.
"It feels great, I'm happy to win in basically my home track now that I'm with MP", Hamda said. "It's a good feeling already - double pole, it couldn't have been a better start of the day and now a win."
"We saved our tyres - everybody used it for free practice 2 yesterday", she continued, explaining her strategy. "I think I had an advantage with that, so I had a half-new [set] and I had good grip around sector 2, which is a very technical part and requires a lot of grip. I was able to drive away from Léna".
Nerea Martí secured her third podium of the season, having managed the race in the closing stages from Edgar.
Fifth across the line, Emely de Heus added important points to her tally, ahead of Carrie Schreiner – who defended well from the fast charging Pulling. The Alpine Academy driver was the biggest mover of the race, having gained five places from her starting position.
With eighth place, Amna Al Qubaisi remains the only driver to have scored points in every race – a 10-race consecutive streak. Lola Lovinfosse and Bianca Bustamante closed the top ten and preceded Megan Gilkes and Chloe Grant by a few tenths of a second. Chloe Chong and Maite Caceres had a good battle midway through the race but positions remained unchanged.
Hamda Al Qubaisi's fastest lap of the race (in 1:36.942) gains the Emirati one extra point, which summed up to the double pole position and race win brings the MP Motorsport driver up to 124 points, now only 11 points behind García. Léna Bühler also surpassed the 100 point mark, while Abbi Pulling loses fourth in the standings to Nerea Martí by two points.
With two more races tomorrow, the fight for the championship is entering a very exciting stage: from fifth on the grid, Marta García will have the chance to overturn her weekend. Amna Al Qubaisi is set to start from reverse grid pole in Race 2 (08:40 local), alongside Carrie Schreiner – eyeing her first podium of the season. But we can expect both Léna Bühler and Hamda Al Qubaisi trying to climb the order, ahead of Race 3 in the afternoon (17:25 local time).