Growing up in the glamourous city of Abu Dhabi you wouldn’t expect a little girl to choose karting as a hobby. But that’s exactly what eighteen-year-old Hamda Al Qubaisi did back then.

Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates Hamda grew up with some very supportive and loving parents as well as two younger brothers and an older sister. Naturally Abu Dhabi was also the birthplace of her passion for motorsport.

I got to talk to Hamda about her inspiration to go karting, her F4 experiences, the competition with her sister and how she feels about the challenges that many female drivers face.

No one just wakes up one day and says:” I want to go karting!” There is always a person or an experience that inspires you to do it. And it wasn’t any different for Hamda, only that it was a rather close person that left a lasting impression.

Esther : How did you get into karting? I know your father is a racing driver himself and your sister as well, did that play a part in it?

Hamda : I saw my sister in her first season of karting. She inspired me because she was so dedicated. To see her on track fighting for results and fearless, I wanted to be the same . I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. I don’t know if it was a “younger sister” thing but I just always wanted to be like her.

2019 was a very special year for Hamda, as she got her first taste of a single seater car by doing several test days at some of the greatest circuits around Europe. While she tried to get used to the car her older sister Amna was competing in the Italian F4 championship. Eventually Hamda also got her first taste of competitive racing in Europe, as she joined her sister and Abu Dhabi Racing for two rounds at Red Bull Ring and Monza.

Esther : In 2019 you first tested a Formula 4 car and then took part in two rounds of the Italian F4 championship. How was this whole experience for you?

Hamda : It was very different for me as I wasn’t used to the car and I didn’t have a proper preparation. However I still enjoyed the experience. It gave me an insight of what racing in Europe would be like, so it was good.

Later that year it was also announced she would participate in the last race of the F4 UAE championship in Abu Dhabi. It was an F1 support race.

Esther : How did it feel to take part in such a “big”event in your home country?

Hamda : It was my first time racing at Yas Marina in such a big event and I was very happy. I think it gave us a lot of attention and it was just overall such an emotional and fun race weekend.

Hamda and her sister Amna competed almost for their whole career with each other. Since karting they took part in lots of races together and that didn’t change much at the start of their single seater careers, even though it diminished.

‘As soon as we put our helmets on it’s competition.’

Esther : Do you two have a strong rivalry or rather support each other?

Hamda : We would always support each other off track but on track we fight hard. Our first time racing in the same category in karting we had a very strong battle and we still argue about that race until today. It’s pretty funny but again we are sisters and we are very competitive.

2020 became the first year Hamda committed fully to single seater racing. At the beginning of the year she took part in the F4 UAE championship. It would give her her first victory and many more podiums. It seemed like she finally understood the car and got the best out of it and herself. By delivering such a remarkable campaign she caught many people’s attention.

Esther : This year you took part in the F4 UAE championship. You scored many podiums and also victories. How did it feel to win for the first time in that category and in general the whole experience?

Hamda : I had an amazing experience. It was a season where I confirmed to myself how much I love this sport. There were so many ups and downs but in the end it was just amazing how I was able to get these results. I even shocked myself with the results I got and I just loved every part of it. Especially my first win. It was just unbelievable. I’m having flashbacks of how much hard work my team, family and myself put in and how it all came together.

‘I was over the moon, it felt like I was dreaming.’

You would expect Hamda to try and keep her momentum, but then something out of everyone’s control happened. The Covid-19 pandemic. For months the whole world was in lockdown and racing was abandoned. This confronted everyone including the young Emirati woman with many obstacles.

Esther : This year is of course very different because of COVID-19. It was a very long break until racing was on again. How difficult was this time for you? Did it maybe also have a positive side?

Hamda : It was very difficult because with lockdown I wasn’t able to do any testing.

Not driving for such a long time really affected my performance afterwards. I had no racing for 5 months and I struggled to even travel for my racing season in Europe so it was just a mess. But thankfully in the end I was able to come here. I had a rough start but I’m starting to progress.

When the world slowly started opening up again the first racing events got rescheduled. One of those was the Italian F4 championship. At the end of July it was announced that Hamda would join Abu Dhabi racing by Prema to compete in it.

Esther : How much were you looking forward to racing in the Italian F4 championship?

Why did you decide to go and race in Europe and do you still feel happy with the decision?

Hamda : I was waiting for 5 months in lockdown and wondering if I was gonna be able to make it. It was the hardest time ever because I always wanted to race in the full season of the Italian championship ever since my sister did. When I finally got the chance I was really excited.

Hamda had a very rocky start to her season, but is improving weekend by weekend.

Esther : Do you have any goal for the end of the season?

Hamda : My goal would be to keep being around the points so top 10 I would say. I think it’s a realistic goal.

Deciding to move to a different continent is certainly not an easy decision but for Hamda it was worth it. The competition in Europe is very different and probably one of the toughest in the whole world. It’s also the place to catch an F1 team’s eye. But being far away from all the things you’re used to is a big challenge.

Esther : How hard is it being so far away from your friends and family and is it worth it?

Hamda : It’s actually really hard being away for such a long time. This is the longest time I’ve been away from my family and friends and I really miss them. But it’s definitely worth it because racing is what I love to do.

Esther : Do you feel like it’s an adventure?

Hamda : I love it here. I’ve been here a lot and I’m learning many things and exploring many places so yes it’s wonderful.

While trying to forge her own way in motorsport Hamda has to overcome one more ‘problem’ then other drivers. Her gender. Being a female in a male dominated sport will always be difficult but never be impossible.

Esther : Do you feel that it’s harder to be racing as a woman? Are you under more pressure ( if so how do you deal with it) ?

Hamda : I don’t think it’s harder to be racing as a woman. I feel like in my racing career growing up I never looked at it in that way. I always just raced and had fun but again it’s always gonna be hard to deal with pressure. I think it’s the same for every driver. You are always pressured in a way but how you deal with that pressure makes the difference.

‘I think all I want to prove is that women have potential and are able to do what they put on their mind.’

As a young person it’s very difficult to be sure who you want to be one day. Even Hamda faces this challenge but she does have a pretty clear vision of what she wants to accomplish on her way even though it’s very difficult to combine racing and school.

Esther : Last year you graduated and you got accepted into NYU, is it very difficult to navigate school and racing ?

Hamda : It’s actually really difficult but thankfully NYU is a very supportive university and they help me a lot in many ways so I’m thankful for that.

Esther : Do you ever think about what you would do if racing doesn’t work out?

Hamda : I never really thought about it because I don’t think that I would ever completely stop. I obviously still study and I go to university but even if it didn’t work out it would still be a part of my life somehow.

Esther : What is your goal in racing? Is there any specific category you would like to end up in?

Hamda : I think for now I’m focusing on my goals in F4 and how I can progress. Depending on whatever opportunities I get, it could even be a different path.

Thank you to Hamda Al Qubaisi for her time

and Good Luck in the future!

All picture credits to her.