Make it 3: Hamda Al Qubaisi takes another victory in F4 UAE season finale
To round out the championship in Dubai, Hamda Al Qubaisi added another race victory and a podium finish to her name, after a solid season in an increasingly competitive F4 UAE Championship.
And here we are, five weeks into the first international single seater championship of 2021. Five weeks that have flashed by, and that again gave us the opportunity to see one of the most exciting female upcoming talents in formula cars in action.
Hamda Al Qubaisi, one year after her full time switch to F4, returned to her home country to compete in her sophomore campaign in Formula 4 UAE Championship powered by Abarth, after she had impressed in 2020 claiming 12 podiums and three race victories, before stepping up to her first full season in the Italian F4 championship. Hamda - also finishing two times within the top-10 in one of the most competitive feeder series in Europe - thus opted for another season in the UAE-based series, which featured a hugely competitive field in 2021, despite the travel restrictions and logistic challenges for teams and drivers.
Al Qubaisi's season was marked by more wins and highly competitive results, but also by some unfortunate DNFs that ultimately prevented the Emirati 18-year old driver to compete for the title coming into the final weekend at Dubai Autodrome.
The final pole positions went to rookie driver Vladislav Lomko and championship leader Dilano Van't Hoff, who topped Friday's two qualifying sessions. Hamda Al Qubaisi was sixth and fourth respectively. But, after several penalties were applied, it was an all-Russian front row for race 1, after Van't Hoff saw his title fight going uphill after being disqualified from Q1 for a technical infringement. His main rival, Cram Motorsport's Enzo Trulli, also was dropped by three positions for causing avoidable contact.
When the lights went out for the first race in Dubai, Lomko led compatriot Smal into the first corner, while Hamda Al Qubaisi had another really strong start and advanced to third - before moving further up to second in the first lap.
Having lost momentum, Smal got tangled with Jonas Ried, triggering the first Safety Car of the weekend.
After two laps behind the pace car, the race resumed and Hamda Al Qubaisi made herself bigger in Lomko's rearview mirrors: the young lady from Abu Dhabi went for the pass on lap 5 and the leading pair made contact, with the Russian having the worst out of it: Lomko dropped to ninth, while Hamda held on to the lead after the heated battle.
Trulli was on a mission and charged back to second place, but the Italian could nothing against the dominance of Al Qubaisi, who took the chequered flag to win her third race of the season - her sixth in her F4 career.
The victory, though, remained provisional for a few hours after the flag, as the stewards investigated the contact and finally deemed it a racing incident.
Over three seconds adrift was Enzo Trulli, ahead of Smal, Inthraphuvasak and Scionti. Al Qubaisi also signed the fastest lap of the race, her second of the season.
"It was a very tough race, I was a bit caught in the traffic at the beginning but as soon as I managed to get by I was catching the leader and then there was a Safety Car" - explained Hamda. "I think it was a position where I couldn't really do my best, but towards the end I managed to win."
The fight for the title took another U-turn when Trulli could not start the second race for a technical issue, leaving Van't Hoff - who was starting from pole - in the best possible position to try and build a gap.
At the start, the Dutchman held the top of the leaderboard from Smal and Lomko, with Hamda Al Qubaisi in sixth place. The Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema driver managed to jump ahead of Jamie Day on the second lap and showed again great pace as she approached the frontrunners.
But there was more drama at the front: Van't Hoff, while he could pull a three second gap to the rest of the field, was handed a 5-second penalty for jumping the start. The battle between Russian drivers Smal and Lomko behind him definitely helped the Xcel Motorsport driver, who set a series of fastest laps in order to extend his lead to a safe margin.
Al Qubaisi closed on Marti for fourth place but also had to watch her mirrors from the return of Jamie Day, right behind her. On lap 7, Hamda spun while battling for P4 and dropped to ninth.
Lomko overtook Smal on lap 8 and made it to second place - a move that would later reveal crucial: when American Enzo Scionti came to a stop and the Safety Car had to be deployed, Dilano Van't Hoff saw his 8-second advantage disappear - and with it, all his chances of stepping on the podium with the penalty.
The race finished under the neutralization and gave the first win to Vlad Lomko, at his first weekend in the series for Muecke Motorsport. Smal was third, Day clinched the final podium position. Van't Hoff was classified seventh, while Hamda Al Qubaisi finished ninth.
The third race from Dubai, scheduled for early morning on Saturday, was delayed by over an hour due to the foggy conditions. When the cars made it onto the grid, Van't Hoff found himself stripped of the points lead for the first time this year, with Enzo Trulli putting increasing pressure on the Dutchman.
From pole, Dilano Van't Hoff led Lomko and Hamda Al Qubaisi into the first corner - the Emirati lady once again nailing the start and moving up one position.
But the race once again belonged to Enzo Trulli who, starting from the back of the pack, managed to climb the order with outstanding speed and reached the top-six 4 laps into the race.
While the leading duo signed off, Hamda had a very solid run in third and only had to defend in the final laps from the charging Trulli. The Italian had in fact overtaken both Smal and Day, making up for the adverse starting position.
Lomko launched the attack for first place on Van't Hoff and then managed the race like a veteran, taking his second race win of the weekend despite a late charge by his main rival.
Hamda Al Qubaisi was third, conquering her seventh podium finish of the season.
After a great recovery, Trulli crossed the line in fourth and preceded Day and Smal.
19 races into the championship, Dilano Van't Hoff and Enzo Trulli entered the final 20-minute race separated by one point: the Xcel Motorsport driver had in fact managed to re-claim the top of the standings, but had to outscore his 15-year old Italian competitor.
The lights went out for the final time in Dubai and Partyshev, who had started from reverse-grid pole, had a slow getaway, allowing Jonas Ried into the lead at Turn 1. Hamda Al Qubaisi, from the 6th grid slot, had another blistering start and fired into P3, right behind Kirill Smal.
The Safety Car was then quickly called out to clear the car of Pepe Marti.
At the restart on lap 3, the leaders battled hard for the final win of the year: Smal attacked Ried; the German initially held on but had then to surrender the first place to the SMP-backed Xcel Motorsport driver. Hamda Al Qubaisi was also following closely and, as she tried to take advantage from the action in front of her, she made contact with Van't Hoff. Hamda spun and rejoined, but had to pit for damages, while the championship contender continued, despite losing out to Trulli.
Van't Hoff set the fastest lap and pushed hard to catch up with Trulli in third, but after 9 laps, it was the son of the former Formula 1 driver to take the chequered flag and claim the title by just one point.
The race was won in dramatic style by Kirill Smal, ahead of Jonas Ried and Trulli, with Van't Hoff and Inthraphuvasak rounding out the top-5.
It was nonetheless a really competitive season for Dilano Van't Hoff, who will move to the Spanish F4 championship for the rest of his racing season.
Hamda was 10th in an unfortunate final race, which has nevertheless seen the younger Al Qubaisi sister taking 3 wins, 7 podiums, 2 fastest laps and fourth in the points standings, crowning another solid season.