ABU DHABI: They have pulled off some impressive feats individually in the world of motorsport, but if you ask Amna and Hamda Al-Qubaisi what they consider to be the highlight of their careers, the Emirati sisters choose a moment in which they both got to shine.
“I would say Red Bull Ring, the first round in Austria, where we got to share a podium,” Amna, 23, told Arab News in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
“I shared the podium with my sister. It was an amazing feeling and I hope we can do the same again,” added Hamda, 21.
The older Al-Qubaisi sister is referring to the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, which saw Hamda finish second in race three and Amna take third place.
Earlier that day at Red Bull Ring, Amna claimed victory in race two, but stepping on the podium together with her sister in the next race ultimately proved more special to both of them.
From a young age, the Al-Qubaisi sisters have made a habit of making history.
At 18, Amna became the first Emirati female driver to race in single-seater competitions internationally when she joined the grid in Italian Formula 4.
In 2019, she became the first Arab woman to win a Formula 4 race when she topped the podium in the F4 UAE Trophy Round at Yas Marina Circuit during the F1 Grand Prix weekend, and in 2021, Amna took things further by becoming the UAE’s first female F3 driver.
Hamda made waves when she scooped six race wins across her first two full seasons in F4 UAE — 2020-2021 — but her big moment on the international stage came in June 2021 when she became the first woman in history to make the podium in the Italian F4 Championship, placing third in the first race at Misano World Circuit. She was just 18 years old at the time.
By the end of 2022, the careers of Amna and Hamda were in jeopardy as they struggled to find the necessary funding to keep racing. But then came the announcement of the launch of F1 Academy, an all-female racing series aimed at developing and preparing young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.
Both sisters were signed by Dutch team MP Motorsport for the inaugural season, which saw Hamda finish third in the F1 Academy championship and Amna secure P6.
“Honestly, it saved my career,” said Amna of the F1-supported initiative.
“I was about to stop racing and they saved my career by having the budget really low and the opportunity to race on extraordinary tracks. So a big thank you to Susie Wolff for creating the F1 Academy and giving me the opportunity to be back racing again.”
Hamda, who took four race victories in the inaugural championship, was also concerned either she or Amna would have to drop out of competing.
“For me, I think F1 Academy also saved my career. We were really low on budget and it was at a point we were choosing between us, who would race and who would stop,” said Hamda.
“So it wasn’t really a nice feeling and I’m happy we’re able to share the track together, as teammates as well, representing our country. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Since the start of their careers, Amna and Hamda had been competing in mixed competitions, side by side with male drivers, so switching their focus to an all-female series could have been considered a risky move. But Hamda feels her level has only gone higher, and her top-five finish in the F4 UAE Trophy Round with Yas Heat Racing in Abu Dhabi last weekend, which featured a competitive mixed grid, has helped her prove her point.
“F1 Academy has done great, I performed really well there, and it hasn’t done anything (negative) to the level I’m at,” said Hamda.
“Being an all-female series, people thought it would bring my level down but I’m here (at Yas Marina Circuit) competing in a mixed grid and I’m still at the top. So it goes to show how strong the grid was and how females can really perform in this category.”
But can an all-female series really be the right stepping stone for women looking to make it to Formula 1?
“Yes, I think for sure,” replied Hamda. “Because I’ve been through a lot of championships and to be honest F1 Academy has been one of the most competitive championships I’ve raced at. Considering I’ve raced on a 40-plus-car grid in F4 Italia, in F4 UAE, so to be in F1 Academy 15-car grid but still so competitive, it’s a really high level and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Hamda’s F1 Academy campaign was all the more impressive considering she had surgery for a broken wrist just six weeks before the season started. The doctors told her she would need four months to recover but Hamda somehow managed to make it in time for pre-season testing in Barcelona and she stood on top of the podium, winning a race in Valencia, just 75 days after going under the knife.
“At one point I was already in the fight for the lead of the championship,” said Hamda, reflecting on her season. “So for me it was amazing. I was able to perform really well at such a high level; especially as an Emirati woman in the sport, I showed what we’re capable of and I’m sure a lot of women here in the region can do the same.”
Arguably the fastest sister act in all of motorsport, the Al-Qubaisis have successfully navigated what could have been a very tricky dynamic as siblings, teammates and competitors.
“In the beginning it was quite tough,” admitted Amna. “I mean, in karting we used to take each other out. But I think we’ve matured and in single-seaters we really have an advantage to everyone else, being sisters. We really help each other on track and off track. So it’s really good to have a teammate that’s your sister.”
Hamda explained their nuanced approach to how they manage races that bring them mixed fortunes.
“It happened a few times, when I’m mad and she’s happy, she tries not to be as happy, to not make me feel worse, and vice versa,” said Hamda. “But at the same time we celebrate each other’s wins despite what happens to each other. So if she won I’ll be there for her, I’ll celebrate no matter what happens to me.”
Still only 21, Hamda walked away from her first season in F1 Academy with many lessons learned.
“For sure it’s more about dealing with the pressure, trying to stay focused no matter what and forget about people or outsiders, whatever they have to say. I made a few mistakes on my side, driving-wise, but then again, I can’t look at the people who criticize me and I have to forget it and think tomorrow’s a new day, start fresh and learn from my mistakes,” she said.
“That’s one thing I struggled with; I would always let the past haunt me but I’ve learned a lot this season. I’ve learned to trust the process and see how things go.”