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Hamda Al Qubaisi will be racing against some of the upcoming stars of the motorsport world in the Formula Regional European Championship (FREC). Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Following her successful year competing across the UAE in the Formula 4 season, Emirati racing driver Hamda Al Qubaisi is making the step up into the Formula Regional European Championship (FREC).

In 2021 she achieved her maiden podium finish at Yas Marina Circuit, and now, the daughter of legendary UAE driver Khaled, is ready to move into the FREC where she will be driving for Prema Racing against some of the upcoming stars of the motorsport world.

But, how does it feel for the 21-year-old to be making the switch to a more competitive class in her career? “I think it was a really massive step and, I’m actually really happy with the progress I’ve made so far,” she says from a training camp in Italy during an exclusive phone interview with Gulf News. “It was very difficult, especially coming from Formula 4. It’s a totally different car and also, you know, the way to drive it is a bit different than the way I was driving the F4. So far I think I’ve made some really good steps and I’m really happy with the progress.”

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Hamda Al Qubaisi is excited about making the step up to the Formula Regional European Championship (FREC). Image Credit: Supplied

She says she struggled a little with the car in F3 in Asia but with every race she improved her pace and got closer to the top 10. “That is something I was aiming for. And now here in Europe, there are 38 drivers in the championship. It’s much, much more competitive and I think I’ve also showed really good pace in the testing sessions.”

It appears all the drivers have struggled in Italy this week but she is dealing with the new car and all of the new challenges the step up brings. “One of the main things has been the steering,” she says. “It’s much heavier and obviously the car is also much heavier. In F4, I used to overlap with the brakes and then the throttle. But with this car, because of how heavy it is, you really need to be patient. You need to break and then release to have good trail breaking, and all of these little things that I wasn’t doing in F4.”

4 podiums

She had a solid season last year where she notched up 3 wins and got 4 podiums and was pleased with her performances overall but felt she could have done better. “It was really, really strong but I feel I didn’t quite maximize it enough. I had a few unlucky moments with some incidents and also unfortunately had some DNFs because of the technical issues with the car. So it was really difficult to maximize all the potential from last season but in the end I finished fourth in the championship, which I was really proud of. Going into the F4 Italian championship here in Europe, it was another big challenge, with tougher grid and more drivers but I was able to get a podium in Maisano and that was I think the best achievement I’ve had so far.” In fact in the eight seasons of the Italian Formula 4 championship no female had ever done that. “For me coming from the UAE and also a female driver is a great thing to show that we are capable of doing things in motor sports. I’m really, really proud of that achievement.”

Now for F3, it’s another tough step and another challenge being amongst a 38-car grid but she can’t wait to get going. “I’m really looking forward to the new challenge, and I really want to improve as a driver,” she says. “Obviously it’s my first year in F3 Regional, so I’m not really expecting any results but I’m willing to learn and improve. And then maybe next year I look for some great results!”

Currently training for the new season, Hamda is challenging herself to keep improving. The sessions in Europe are helping and team Prema are doing their best to prepare her properly for the season. “I’m grateful to have such a good team. We do have a lot of SIM sessions and a lot of pre-race and post-race meetings. Every day I have to get up at 7am to get things done, then go for training in both physical and mental sessions, and really prepare myself every day for that race weekend.”

And she hopes the preparation will help her when she comes back to the UAE. “After I finish with the FRECA championship and maybe compete in the FRAC and the F4UAE again for 2023, I will definitely be much stronger. I’m looking forward to seeing my results this year, as I think I should be managing to finish at least maybe top 15, top 20.”

Excited and nervous

She will be coming up against the likes of Arthu LeClerc, the younger brother of the current F1 championship leader, Charles LeClerc and it is a proposition that excites her. “I feel really excited, but also nervous at the same time. That’s one thing that really motivates me, to be just around such a strong grid. I know I have really strong teammates that I can learn from. With Prema, everything is always possible with them and they always have my back. I feel like I can do great things in this season’s championship and I’m hoping to bring some great achievements back home.”

Hamda heaps plenty of praise on her father Khaled for helping her and her 19-year-old sister, Amna, to develop their passion for motorsports. Khaled has always loved tinkering with cars and engines from an early age but there was nobody to guide him towards a path of motorsport. But he has been key in guiding his daughters. “He wanted to do something about it. He put us in a Karting Academy and from there we grew our passion for motorsport. Now when he sees us on the grid he feels really happy and proud.”

She admits motorsports did not interest her when she was younger but her father and her sister got her involved with it. “The passion definitely comes from him but it wasn’t until my sister got into the sport that I really took an interest too. Once she was involved in it, she really pushed me to get started. If it wasn’t for her, it would have been really difficult for me. She basically carved the pathway for me. Their involvement has really guided my path in motorsports and I’m grateful to them.”

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Khaled Al Qubaisi with his daughters Amna (left) and Hamda. Image Credit: Supplied

Her father’s support has been huge but does she feel any rivalry to be better than him? “Yes, for sure!” she laughs. “Whenever we’re on the grid together, we’re really competitive and it’s like we don’t know each other anymore! He wants us to go to that higher level, because he knows our potential and he thinks we do have a chance in reaching our goals of competing at the highest levels.”

It was hard for Khaled to push his daughters into motorsports what with all the judgment he faced but it worked out great in the end. “He’s really proud and he’s happy he did it and that we are behind the wheel, but we couldn’t do it without him.”

Getting women involved

Despite her young age Hamda is one of the most competitive female racers in the world and along with her sister, the pair are helping to make a lot of changes in motorsports in the UAE and are pleased to help get more women involved. “Honestly, I feel really proud because after I started in motorsports with my sister I feel like a lot of women and girls in the UAE have been asking us how to join and how to get in. I want to see more Emiratis in motorsports. A lot of Emiratis have a passion for racing and just driving in general so they will definitely have the talent, especially in karting. I’ve taken many of my friends to karting and from the first time on track, they’re actually really competitive and they know what they’re doing.”

But how is she coping with the pressure? “I do feel like it is a bit of a pressure with me being in Europe because I’m expected to get results or I need to get results to show others that I’m able to drive at this level. At the same time, I think it’s important for me to be in my zone and forget about what anyone thinks, and really just do it for me. The results will come but that’s one thing I struggled with a bit, as I do put pressure on myself to perform well.”

And how does she get herself in the zone? “I put my headphones in and do my warmups before getting into the car. Then when the lights turn green my heart is pounding and I’m ready to go.”