Léna Bühler completes FRAC season on a high in Abu Dhabi, Hamda Al Qubaisi 6th in Rookie standings
Five weeks of close racing for the best F3 prospects: Formula Regional Asian Championship rounded out its 2022 season with a remarkable final weekend for Léna Bühler, closer than ever to her first points. Solid final round for Hamda Al Qubaisi, who showed great pace and finished 6th in the rookie standings.
Five weeks have flashed by and the 2022 Formula Regional Asian Championship came to an end by crowning its new champion at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, where it had started its season in late January.
29 drivers among the very best international Formula 3 prospects entered the season finale, as 37 drivers from all over the world started at least one race of the previously-branded F3 Asia, a championship that has seen an impressive rise in the past few years. Racers planning to race in FIA F2, FIA F3, FRECA are in fact jumping on the opportunity to add some important extra mileage and experience to their resumé, ahead of their European campaigns - targeting important FIA Superlicence points in the process.
The 2022 season saw 10 drivers taking at least one victory - in an outstandingly competitive 5-event calendar that included only the UAE venues of Abu Dhabi and Dubai due to the pandemic challenges to travel across Asia.
Despite strong starts of their season, Sebastian Montoya, Gabriel Bortoleto and Hadrien David - all race winners - abandoned the championship after a few rounds due to clashing commitments. It was then Arthur Leclerc (Mumbai Falcons) to successfully amass enough points to enter the season finale in the best position, leading by 40 points over Pepe Marti. The Spaniard's consistency was rewarded, but the Pinnacle Motorsport's driver knew all Leclerc had to do was outscore him by 8 points to seal the title at Abu Dhabi.
Among the field, home heroes Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi (Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema) had their first full season in single-seaters together, having shared the track on a handful of occasions in Italian and UAE F4 in the past. Amna had raced in the series in 2021, coming from over a year outside the racetrack. She had a solid debut and managed to score her first points at the 2022 Round 1, with a 10th place in Race 2.
Her younger sister Hamda was making her F3 racing debut, having massively impressed in two F4 years. At her first ever race, she was just outside the top-10 and marginally missed out on a reverse grid pole. She continued to collect crucial experience with solid races, fierce battles in the midfield and good recoveries, despite a few technical issues.
From the penultimate round, Léna Bühler joined the series for 3Y Technology by R-ace GP, the same team that lined up the Swiss racer in the 2021 Formula Regional European Championship. Bühler had just returned from Arizona, USA, where she tested for the all-female championship W Series in the assessment tests for potential new candidates.
At her first Formula Regional Asia weekend, Bühler immediately proved to have made a big step forward and had strong sessions. Despite a retirement in Race 1, she would top her best F3 race result in Race 2 - only to break her record again in Race 3 with a strong 15th place finish.
At Abu Dhabi, Bühler showed even more speed straight from the practice session: she was in fact P11 on Friday, with pace to potentially aim for points. Similarly, Hamda Al Qubaisi was also back in contention for a top-10, and the young Emirati carried momentum into qualifying.
The first 15-minute qualifying session saw championship leader taking pole position ahead of Jak Crawford (Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema) and Dino Beganovic (Mumbai Falcons). Hamda Al Qubaisi was P15 - with 14 drivers within a second. She couldn't put together all her best sectors, and had a 1:50.8 as a ideal best that would put her a few places ahead - which nevertheless showed promising pace for the races.
Léna Bühler qualified in P19 after having lapped in the top half of the leaderboard throughout the session; Amna Al Qubaisi was 24th fastest.
From pole position, Arthur Leclerc had a great start and was soon followed by Mumbai Falcons teammate Dino Beganovic, as Jak Crawford lost second at lights out. But it was a real nightmare for championship contender Pepe Marti, who stalled from sixth and dropped all the way down to the tail end of the field.
Ido Cohen lost the front wing in the first lap contacts, while the women of the Formula Regional Asian Championship immediately started to make up positions: Hamda Al Qubaisi, after one of her best qualifying to date, was P15 after the first laps; she closed in on Goethe and gained 14th place - as also Léna Bühler was on a mission: from 19th, she passed Marinangeli to move into P17. Amna Al Qubaisi found a way past her father Khaled for P24.
The Mumbai Falcons duo pulled away, ahead of the Red Bull juniors Crawford and Hadjar, who battled for third. Hadjar went for the move but went wide into Turn 9, as Crawford held on.
Meanwhile, Hamda Al Qubaisi and Léna Bühler continued their recovery in the midfield; the Abu Dhabi by Prema racer managed to get into P13 as Fluxa dropped, and battled Braschi and Belov. She would slip behind the recovering Pepe Marti - who had made his way up the field after the slow start - with Léna Bühler following behind in P16.
On lap 12, unfortunately, Hamda spun at Turn 12 and dropped to 19th place. She managed to close the gap back on Iwasaki and gained 18th place. Her sister Amna was also not in her luckiest of days and pulled over in the pitlane with a technical issue that ended her race.
The title fight was at a crucial point, as Pepe Marti charged through the midfield. The Spaniard completed a stunning pass on Michael Belov - but with a 12th place, it wasn't enough to postpone Arthur Leclerc's crown: the Monegasque took a controlled victory, 3 seconds ahead of his teammate Dino Beganovic and 8.5 seconds clear of third placed Jak Crawford, sealing the title. Hadjar and Aron rounded out the top-5.
Léna Bühler crossed the finish line in P15, having gained 4 places and equalling her best finish in the championship from the latest Dubai round.
Hamda Al Qubaisi was 18th, still having shown great pace in the first half of the race.
With a tenth place in Race 1, Pierre-Louis Chovet claimed the reverse-grid pole position for Saturday's night race, which was contested under the spectacular artificial lights of the eye-pleasing Yas Marina venue. Dilano Van't Hoff (Pinnacle Motorsport) was also on the front row, but the Dutchman got it all wrong at the start and dropped to sixth, allowing Gabriele Minì and Patrik Pasma to join Chovet at the front.
After a great start, Hamda Al Qubaisi got stuck into the traffic of the first lap battles and held her 18th position, just like Léna Bühler in P15. From P29 on the grid after her DNF in Race 1, Amna Al Qubaisi was quickly making up positions slotted in P26 when the Safety Car was deployed: Jak Crawford's Abu Dhabi by Prema car had to be parked at Turn 13 on lap 4, neutralizing the race.
Chovet had a troubled restart, as Minì and Bearman attacked him at the first corner in a three-way fight for position: Minì went wide but rejoined just alongside the race leader, with Aron and Bearman coming together at Turn 12. The Safety Car was quickly out again, as marshals cleared the crashed cars. Léna Bühler had recovered to P14, with Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi in P16 and P24 respectively.
It was another messy restart once the green flag was waved again: Chovet waited long enough for the whole pack to bunch up and, in another 3-car fight for the lead, Patrik Pasma and Isack Hadjar damaged their front wings and dropped down. Meanwhile, Minì had taken the lead from Beganovic, Leclerc and Van't Hoff and Chovet was down to ninth.
After a strong restart, Bühler and the Al Qubaisi sisters avoided the incidents and gained places, until Hamda was forced wide and found herself in 19th place, battling with Amna.
Bühler passed Braschi and gained 12th place.
On the final lap, Minì had to defend from Dino Beganovic, but the Italian brought home his second win of the season by 0.14 seconds, preceding the Mumbai Falcons' Swede, Arthur Leclerc and Pepe Marti - who secured the Rookie title.
Léna Bühler was P12 across the line, claiming her best finish to date in F3 in yet another convincing performance. Hamda Al Qubaisi took the chequered flag in P17, just ahead of her sister Amna in P19. With 23rd place, Khaled Al Qubaisi won the Master Trophy class title with a race to spare, having won 8 races in 2022.
Red Bull Juniors Hadjar and Crawford locked out the front row on Sunday's race, followed by Minì and Aron. Hamda Al Qubaisi lined up in P17 for the final race of the Asian season, while Amna (P26) and Léna Bühler (P29) had a bit more work to do in the race to recover. Bühler had in fact a troubled Q2, when a red flag meant she had to start from the very back of the field.
At the final lights out of the season, Crawford had a slow getaway and allowed both Minì and Aron to go through, chasing Isack Hadjar in the lead. The Frenchman, though, could take advantage of the battle for the runner-up spot to open a small gap in the initial stages.
Freshly-crowned champion Arthur Leclerc made a rare mistake and spun at Turn 16, as the Al Qubaisi sisters held their position after one lap. Léna Bühler had a blistering start and was already up to P21 when the Safety Car freezed the action on lap 2, as Amna Al Qubaisi had stopped on track at Turn 14.
It wasn't a short time until the second Safety Car was out again, unfortunately: Khaled Al Qubaisi went into the barriers at Turn 14 - he had already been hit a few laps before.
At the same time, Hamda was involved in a separate incident and had dropped all the way to the back.
With nine minutes left on the clock, though, Hamda Al Qubaisi wasn't going to give up: after a clean restart, she moved up to P23 and focused on catching up with Ayato Iwasaki. She managed to close a four second gap, but couldn't complete a pass before the finish line - which she crossed 0.138 seconds behind the Pinnacle Motorsport's driver, in P21.
Isack Hadjar's pace was unmatched and took victory ahead of Gabriele Minì and Paul Aron. Pepe Marti was the fastest driver on track and closed in on Crawford, but a mistake at Turn 12 cost him fourth place. The Spaniard would finish sixth, having lost out to Pasma as well.
After a great start, Lèna Bühler unfortunately pitted and retired after the first Safety Car intervention. Her two rounds in Formula Regional Asian Championship were nevertheless proof of a big step for the Swiss racer, who now gets ready for her next challenges.
Hamda Al Qubaisi completed her first rookie season in F3 machinery with sixth place in the Rookie standings. With a best finish of P12, Hamda had a great progression through the season and gained valuable experience in the midfield battles.
Despite little track time in the previous years, Amna Al Qubaisi was able to return behind the wheel of a demanding car like the Tatuus T318 Regional F3 car - and scored her first points with a remarkable 10th place. She was often unlucky with technical issues, but also was often among the biggest movers in the races, gaining many positions over the course of the weekends.
Hopefully, we'll have the chance to see the Al Qubaisi sisters back on track in Europe for more F3 action.