Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Al Qubaisi sisters on the fast track to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The sisters are excited to compete in what they regard their most important race, writes Amith Passela

By their own admissions, the Al Qubaisi sisters Amna and Hamda are excitedly preparing for the biggest test of their budding motorsports careers.

The Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend is just a few days away, and the sisters will be racing on the same track as the aristocracy of driving, six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

It’s a dream come true for the Emirati girls, and a great opportunity to impress in front of a packed Yas Marina circuit as they get to compete for the first time on their home track and in front of their fans.

“I really do look forward to it. It’s going to be my first time to race on the track. So it's going to be a huge deal for me it's. A huge honour to be representing my country,’ said Amna.

“The F1 Grand Prix coming. You know, everyone is excited to go for this event. Everyone's asking for tickets and everyone’s looking forward to this weekend.

“So it does have a huge impact especially on young ones. I've seen so many kids approaching me and asking if I'm actually driving a F1 car.”

The pair compete in a special Formula 4 race, a one-off trophy round at the main Yas Marina, with a qualifier on Friday, November 29, and Race 1 on Saturday, November 30, and Race 2 on Sunday, December 1, the day of the Grand Prix.

The sisters said they were excited to race for the first time on their home track and in front of their fans against some of the best drivers in F4 from across the world.

“I have done the F4 a few times abroad, but this is the first time at the Yas Circuit, and for us, the most important race so far,” Amna, 19, told The National.

“There is pressure, like in every other sport, especially when you compete at this level.

“The pressure is even more when the spotlight falls on you, being a local driver in front of local fans.

“But then you must able to deal with such matters if you want to race at this level and achieve your objectives.”

Amna began racing in 2014, when she was 14. She was successful on the karting circuit and was the first Arab woman to participate at the Rotax Max Challenge World Finals.

“I got into motorsports late, but I knew a lot about racing having followed my father’s [Khaled Al Qubaisi] career in racing,” she said.

“Before that, I used to do elite gymnastics. Therefore, I was naturally fit to pursue motor sport.

Amna Al Qubaisi poses for a photo at Monza last year. Guido De Bortoli / Getty Images for Kaspersky Lab
Amna Al Qubaisi poses for a photo at Monza last year. Guido De Bortoli / Getty Images for Kaspersky Lab

“My father was competing in motor racing internationally at that time and we used to watch him race, talk about his racing at home – it came quite naturally for me to try my hand at karting.

“At first it was a hobby. At that time, I never thought I would get this far. But I got serious after I enjoyed some success in karting. Now it is my life.

“I’m full time in it and to start on F4 is a big step up. I hope I can be successful.”

Last year, Amna competed in the Italian F4 Championship in six of the seven rounds, with her best result being a top-15 finish.

“It’s a very prestigious championship with drivers from around the world competing,” she said.

“I think they should call it the World Championship and not an Italian championship because it was very demanding.

“That’s the time I thought I had the potential, having coped with the pace of the top guys.”

Amna said she believed the W Series for women launched last year and the opening race last May are great opportunities for women drivers.

“We don’t really have the chance to make it in single seaters in any other championship because it’s way too expensive,” she said.

“Some don’t have the sponsorship to get the opportunities even if they are good at the sport. So I think that the race series is very helpful.”

Joining her at the Yas Circuit track is her younger sibling Hamda, 17.

The Al Qubaisi sisters say they will relish the pressure of driving in front of home fans. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
The Al Qubaisi sisters say they will relish the pressure of driving in front of home fans. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

She said she was as excited as Amna to race in Abu Dhabi. “I really do look forward to this race because it’s going to be my first time racing on my home track,” she said.

It’s going to be a huge deal for me. It’s a huge honour to represent my country. It will be a big deal for me for next season.

Hamda Al Qubaisi

“It’s going to be a huge deal for me. It’s a huge honour to represent my country. It will be a big deal for me for next season.

“I’m still not sure what’s around the next corner for me but I’m just excited to be in this race.

“I hope that something good will come out for me. That’s my objective.”

Growing up in a family with a pedigree in motorsport, it was not unusual for Hamda to follow Amna on to the track.

“I was also doing gymnastics and loved to join my father in his running routine of three to five kilometres,” she said.

“I asked him if I could also start on karting. He was a bit surprised at first but gave me the go-ahead.

“It was as if a completely new world opened up for me. And here I am, preparing for the F4 on my home track.”

The F4 race will be Hamda’s third appearance at this level, after Monza and Austria, but she said she was ready for the challenge.

“They were two different experiences for me because racing on the Red Bull Ring was the first time and it was in the rain in Austria,” she said.

“Yas Circuit is a track I know and am familiar with. It will be another experience for me.”

The sisters said they also wanted to excel in academics. Amna is pursuing a degree in physics at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and Hamda has enrolled at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“It’s a bit hard to balance both when you have to spend a lot of time in the sport, but we can manage,” Amna said.

Updated: November 23, 2019 10:34 AM

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