Meet the Emirati karting sisters racing to make it to Formula One
In a world in which many young stars trade off a YouTube channel or Instagram account, Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi are smashing more than just teenage stereotypes. They’re rising stars of the international karting circuit with Formula One in their sights.
The sisters, still only 16 and 14 years old, already have bucketloads of experience, enthusiasm and support behind them.
Last year, the older of the two, Amna, became the first female Emirati driver to represent the country at an international event when she competed at the Rotax Max Challenge grand finals in Portugal. The races are considered a solid step into a career in motorsport.
“Ever since I was a little kid, when I was 3 years old, I was playing around the desert on a quad bike with my dad,” Amna says. “My dad slowly took me in rental karts and started to train me. He told me that: ‘If you really want to make it, I will support you.’”
The girls’ father is Khaled Al Qubaisi, a professional racing driver who made history this summer as part of the first Emirati team to claim a podium place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race with third place in the LMGTE Am class.
Hamda says she became interested in racing while watching her older sister on the track.
“I just liked karting because my sister started it. I was watching her and it looked really fun. I was excited to start it. When I watched her races and how she was doing really well and improving, I asked my dad if I could try to practise,” Hamda says. She was 12 when she started competing, and now travels the world to race.
In a few days, Hamda will compete in Sweden in the third round of the Commission Internationale de Karting-Federation Internationale de l’Automobile Academy Trophy.
She’s placed 27 out of 51 after the first two rounds in France and Portugal. “I think that’s a really good achievement for me,” Hamda says. “I’ve never raced in an international level before. I think I can reach the top 10.”
The first winner from the inaugural 2010 race was Charles Leclerc, who has since been inducted into the Ferrari Driver Academy and is racing as a development driver for the Haas F1 Team.
“I’m just going to push hard,” Hamda says of her own career. “I want to reach Formula One, but I will always go as far as I can. I know that nothing can stop me because I really love motorsport. The first time I got into a kart and drove, it felt amazing. I think I can make it if I just push as hard as I can.”
Racing isn’t cheap, and the girls are already aware that they need to secure long-term sponsorship. They have already signed deals with health insurance company Daman, Abu Dhabi Racing and Mubadala aerospace company Sanad Aero Solutions. They have also caught the eye of the Huawei Honor smartphone brand, which markets itself as “For the Brave” and tries to inspire young people in the region. The company has collaborated with the sisters on a number of occasions.
“We are spreading the word that women can do everything,” Amna says. “We can do anything, even if it’s a men’s sport. We can show them that we are capable of doing what men can do.
“I want to go all the way to Formula One. Yes, it’s a very difficult step, it’s a huge step, but I’m working my way up. I’m very ambitious and dedicated.”
Next year, Amna will progress to Formula 4, an open-wheel category for young drivers. It’s the next rung up on the ladder from karting. The UAE launches the first Formula 4 championship in the Middle East and North Africa later this year. The first of its 18 rounds is on October 28 at Yas Marina Circuit.
When the pair aren’t training or racing, they attend the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy in Abu Dhabi.
“My mum always says school comes first,” Hamda says. “We have to do well in school and in karting. Sometimes when we have a test, we bring our test papers to karting and study there at the same time. It’s really hard work, but we still do it.”
Because of the girls’ ages, they are always accompanied by one or both parents on overseas trips.
“In every race there’s so many emotions a driver goes through,” Amna says. “I really need my parents with me because they understand my emotions.”
Updated: August 23, 2016 04:00 AM