Petite yet powerful, Amna Al Qubaisi is a bundle of contradictions. Her diminutive frame and perfectly manicured slender fingers have expertly manoeuvred sleek and superfast racing cars on tracks across the world, rewriting history on the course. At 22, she is not just the first female Emirati F3 driver, but also the first female Arab to win a Formula 4 race at F1 Grand Prix in 2019 and the first female Arab to compete in a Formula E test in Saudi Arabia in 2018. (Formula E is a single seater motorsport championship for electric cars.)
But breaking through and reaching the top in a male-dominated sport, was not easy, says Amna. ‘It’s a very difficult sport. There are not many opportunities for women. You will always be an outcast, underestimated and not a priority in a team, which is why, as a woman I have had to work harder,’ says the budding sports star, one of the panellists at the recently concluded Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai.
To prepare her body and mind to excel in this sport, Amna spends hours training at the gym and practising on a simulator. She is currently preparing for a major comeback in the European Circuit after a gap of three years. ‘Motor racing is a powerful sport. Our cars require tremendous physical force. As a driver, I need to use all my muscular strength to apply strong brakes. The workouts are tailored to help me build my arms, legs and abdomen muscles,’ she says.
Fortunately for Amna, she did not have to look too far for inspiration as it was right inside her home. Her father Khaled Al Qubaisi is also a racing driver who made history as the first Emirati to compete in the famous 24 hours Le Mans race in France closing two class podiums.
Growing up, Amna says that a lot of her time and that of her three siblings’s was spent on racetracks. ‘I was always fascinated by the sport. We were friendly with other drivers, who were my father’s friends, and we were often privy to their racing jargon and conversations.’
Around the age of 14, Amna went up to her dad and declared that she wanted to learn to steer those powerful wheels. ‘It was just pure passion for the sport that made me dare to take that step, I believe,’ she says. Back then Amna was actually training to be a gymnast. ‘But I was bored with the fact that I had to wait for a year to compete in gymnastic competitions whereas in motor racing we had multiple championships in a year giving me more chances to compete and prove my mettle,’ she says. Amna started with karting in 2014. She was coached and mentored by her father. For the first few years, she competed nationally and then cruised ahead to international competitions. By 2017, she was the first Arab girl to participate in the UAE Rotax Max Challenge championship in karting. She was also the first female to be selected by ATCUAE (Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE) to represent the nation at the GCC Young Drivers Academy Program.
Her supportive family has been one of the biggest motivating factors in her success. Dinner table conversations at the Qubaisi household expectedly revolve around motor racing. All of her siblings are well-versed with the sport, yet surprisingly, Amna’s two brothers have not chosen to pursue motor racing professionally. Instead, their father’s legacy is carried forward by Amna and her younger sister Hamda, who is equally successful on the tracks.
So, how do they deal with sibling rivalry at home? ‘We have competed against each other before and will be doing it again in Europe this year. We do have a lot of arguments especially since we are in the same team. It’s very funny our team members don’t know how to deal with siblings fighting so they just leave us alone,’ gushes Amna, adding that at the same time the sisters are very supportive of each other.
Along with their extended family of uncles and aunts, who have been encouraging her feats, she says, it’s really her mother who has played the greatest role in shaping her career. ‘My mom is an integral part of the sport. She always travels with me and has sacrificed a lot of her own personal life to help steer me and my sister to international competitions.’
Clearly, her parents have been her biggest cheerleaders. While they have given Amna a free hand to pursue her sporting career, they have only laid down rules for one thing in her life – to complete her education. So, her mornings are spent at Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi, where she is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Record Management and Archival Sciences. ‘Education is a huge priority at home.
‘My family has always told Hamda and me that we need to have a backup plan and completing our degrees is top on the list,’ she says. In the university she has a flexible education program, that lets her plan her sporting events and trainings along with her classes.
‘My dream is to open a racing academy, to train more female drivers in the Emirates.’
Big plans aside, the trailblazer admits that she is really just like any other college student, who in her spare time loves listening to music, partying with friends and going karting. Not surprisingly, cars are a passion in her personal life as well. ‘All I ever talk about is cars. I love collecting and refurbishing them. These days, I am doing up a Nissan Skyline R33, a classic Japanese car- a manual and right-hand drive,’ she says. The car that she drives currently twins with her adventurous persona – a Ford Bronco, fit for rugged roads.
For the Abu Dhabi resident, winning laurels and changing the course of women’s participation in sports has come with its own share of setbacks. She has been involved in accidents, has battled injuries, prejudice on tracks and faced financial challenges. ‘Like any other sports person I have had highs and lows. I have had to complete with drivers who are very aggressive and have a lot more track time than me. As practising on the tracks is really expensive, I have at times, contested with almost no track time, yet given it my best.’
It’s a given, that motor racing is a high-risk sport. And unfortunately for Amna, the big crash happened in 2022, when the car she was driving at Formula 3 was completely damaged and she ended up with severe back pain for several months. ‘I had to get a new car imported to the UAE and it arrived a day before one of the championships I was participating in. The technicians had to assemble it in a day and it wasn’t in a great shape. Yet I went ahead and competed, fighting back my fears from my last accident,’ she says.
Amna is a role model for many youngsters, but her own sporting icon is British race car driver Lewis Hamilton, whom she had the privilege of presenting the DHL Fastest Lap Award, in Abu Dhabi in 2021.
Back home, she says, she has always looked up to her aunt Amal Al Qubaisi, who also made history as the first Emirati woman to be elected as President of UAE’s Federal National Council in 2015. ‘My aunt is a pioneer in her field and I grew up hearing stories about her dedication and excellence from my grandma.’
To all the other young girls toying with the idea of entering motor racing, she suggests, ‘Never think you are too young or too old for any sport. Go for it if you have the passion. Stop comparing yourself with others, shut the negative talk. Enjoy the speed and have fun racing.’