Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi: The Red Bull F1 sisters driving each other to be the best

F1 Academy stars talk to The National about signing with Red Bull, their sibling rivalry, hopes for the season and the influence of their father

Al Qubaisi sisters gear up for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Al Qubaisi sisters gear up for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
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Given they are rising stars in the world of motorsport, it was a little surprising to learn that Emirati sisters Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi arrived at Tuesday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix launch event at the Louvre in an Uber.

That could be the only explanation for the slight delay in two of the fastest and most skilled drivers in the country arriving for a raft of media engagements, as race organisers Ethara spelled out plans for the 16th installment of the UAE’s marquee sporting event this December.

Yet, you can be sure their ride still received a five-star rating, considering the patience and grace the siblings showed as they glided through several rounds of interviews, before taking their place on stage alongside driver-turned-pundit David Coulthard and Formula One management stalwart Otmar Szafnauer.

If anyone has earned a stage, it’s the Al Qubaisi sisters – fierce competitors on the F1 Academy grid, record breakers in the realm of youth motorsport and eloquent and engaging speakers away from the track.

Amna, 24, was the first Emirati and female racer to compete in the Formula 4 UAE Championship, and in 2019 became the first female Arab to win a single-seater race. Hamda, 21, made history by becoming the first woman to claim a podium in the notoriously tough Italian F4 Championship in 2021. In the same year, she finished fourth in F4 UAE.

They further enhanced their reputations on debut in F1 Academy – Hamda winning four races to claim third place in the 2023 drivers’ championship, and Amna finishing sixth with two wins.

Those results drew the attention of F1 giants Red Bull, who signed the sisters to their newly formed Red Bull Academy Programme.

As was the case last season, the duo are competing for MP Motorsport, but Amna is now running the Visa Cash App RB livery, while Hamda runs Red Bull Racing on their respective cars.

“An amazing feeling and an honour,” Hamda told The National at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“A dream achievement,” added Amna. “It’s a manifestation that actually happened as I’ve got Red Bull merch in my room.”

A first outing in those gleaming new cars in the opening round of the 2024 F1 Academy season in Jeddah last month brought mixed results but plenty of optimism. Hamda claimed 12 points to sit eighth in the standings and Amna four, after a penalty, to lie 12th.

“It was a little tough; we took a risk in Jeddah with using one set of tyres and it didn't work out in qualifying,” explained Amna, who along with her sister has become an official ambassador for Yas Heat Racing.

“In race one I had an unlucky incident which cost me points. In race two, I kind of made that all up. I went up to P6 from P14 but unfortunately I got a penalty so I only had four points to come out with. But at least it was something.”

“The environment was amazing,” added Hamda. “It was good to be close to home. I would say in Jeddah, the track venue was also amazing. My second time on a street circuit and I really enjoyed it. It's the fastest street circuit in the world as well, so very technical.

“I think obviously the results did not reflect my potential, especially coming from last year. So, there's a lot of work to do there, but yeah, I only know it's upwards from here, so it's good for me.”

Jeddah highlighted the curious dynamic of the duo being friends, sisters, teammates but, potentially, championship rivals.

“Me and my sister, we're very competitive, but at the same time, we really help each other,” said Amna.

“I mean, in the last few races, we would give each other advice on the set-up in the car, how we take a corner. Last year we were working as actual teammates when she was fighting for the championship, I would let her pass to get some points.

“But this year, I'm not letting that happen again,” she added with a smile.

“In karting, growing up, we were a bit too aggressive,” said Hamda. “I would say too competitive, and we would fight a lot. But now, being in the same team, I think we have matured a lot from then, and in Formulas it's a bit different so we help each other.

“We are in the same team and we try to work together as a team, and this year she has been a lot more competitive than she was last year. So it's exciting to see how it's going to be, and especially on the track now that we are very close together in terms of time.”

That sibling rivalry is unlikely to boil over, however, thanks to a parental intervention, as Amna explained: “It's important for us to work hand in hand you know. My dad gave us a very strict contract to sign between each other – if we take each other out, we can forget about racing.”

And that’s a deal brokered by a man who understands the rigours of racing as well as anyone – Khaled Al Qubaisi, one of the most accomplished and respected figures in UAE motorsport.

Among his many achievements, Khaled was the first Emirati to step on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in his class in 2014, while he won the Dubai 24 Hours three times, in 2012, 2013 and 2020, and the Yas Marina 12-Hour Race, also in 2013.

“It was crazy because my dad didn't expect me to be interested in motorsport,” said Amna. “He would expect my brothers, but my brothers were not interested as much as me and my sister. We were super interested in the sport, and my dad was concerned. He was like, ‘What's going on with the DNA switch?’. But he's really happy and it's nice. It's something we get to bond over.”

Hamda added: “My father is one of the main reasons I got into the sport, and he's an idol also, in the Arab region in general. I feel like our name has carried a lot of achievements and it's exciting for him to see his passion through us as well.

“So, it's a really touching feeling to be able to continue that for him. He's always been pushing for me to race, and he never found it as something taboo or different, even as a female in the sport.

“And he always pushed me to my limits and he never doubted me. So that's one thing I really respect about him, he treated me as an equal, and he put a lot in me. You know, he invested a lot, and he always says it was worth it.”

That investment in his daughters is now being paid forward, with their rise paving the way for others to follow, and the siblings actively encouraging women in the region to pursue their ambitions in sport and beyond.

I never actually thought about it in the beginning. When I first started, I just liked motorsport and it was more of a hobby,” said Amna.

“But when I moved up the ladder, I realised how critical it was for me to represent not just the UAE but the Arab region as well.

“I actually found out sooner or later that a lot of girls told me their fathers started to support them in various fields, not just in sports, because they saw my dad supporting me. So, I'm really happy that I was able to pave that way for girls and fathers to get that bond between each other.”

As well as her father, Hamda credits her sister for showing her what was possible.

I followed in her footsteps,” she said. “She is the reason I entered the sport in the first place, and breaking that boundary is a good thing because it created a lot of opportunities behind [us]. Every time I go home, I have messages or people telling me, 'Oh, you are the reason my father let me race or something like this'.

“So, it's a good feeling to be a leader of that pathway, and yeah, I just can't wait to see more girls in the sport and more Arab females in general.”

This December that pathway will bring them home when F1 Academy visits Yas Marina Circuit alongside the 2024 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – an event both sisters say fuelled their interest in the sport.

“The Abu Dhabi event is always the main event I look forward to in F1,” said Amna. “It is the last round in F1 and a few years ago, when Max [Verstappen] and Lewis [Hamilton] were in the fight for the championship, it was an amazing atmosphere.

“And I think also the events off the track, the F1 fan zone and how everybody in the UAE is so interested in Formula One... Throughout the years, it just started to grow and grow and grow, and I've seen so many people more interested and more familiar with Formula One.”

"This year we are also racing in F1 Academy there and [will have] a lot of eyes on us," added Hamda. "So I'm excited to have that home support and, yeah, it's just an amazing track that I grew up in."

The goal of one day lining up on the grid in Abu Dhabi for the main event remains the highest of ambitions for both sisters, with going all the way to F1 being, as Amna puts it: “The ultimate dream for every racing driver."

Hamda adds: “F1 is definitely the ultimate goal, but it's a target that everyone in junior Formulas wants. And I mean, if one day a female can be in the sport, it would be nice if it's an Arab female.”

With that, it’s time to send for another Uber, but when they’re not taking taxis, how do they decide who drives?

“Amna just jumps in the driver's seat and she's like, 'I'm the eldest, I decide',” says Hamda. “I just let her go.”

That’s unless a multiple-time winner of the Dubai 24 Hours pulls rank. “Yes, for sure,” laughs Hamda. “They [dad and Amna] always fight for who’s going to drive, I just sit in the back.”

Updated: April 29, 2024, 2:50 AM