Writing her own history and reinvigorating title hopes, F1 ACADEMY’s first visit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya delivered an abundance of action. Emely De Heus kickstarted her ’23 turnaround with her inaugural victory in cars whilst Amna Al Qubaisi ensured a double win for MP Motorsport and eventual Vice Champion Léna Bühler turned Race 1 disappointment to triumph in Race 3.

As the 2024 field prepare to return to the Spanish circuit for Round 3, we reminisce on the highs and lows from last year’s electrifying weekend.


Hamda Al Qubaisi entered the third round with a spring in her step, having sealed her first win in the series last time out in Valencia — 75 days after sustaining a broken arm in a high impact collision.

Having completed pre-season testing at the track earlier in the year, the Emirati driver quickly got reacquainted with the circuit’s 14 turns in Free Practice 1, topping the timing sheets with a 1:42.495. Her form continued into FP2, finishing two tenths clear of Bianca Bustamante and home hero Nerea Martí.

A strong weekend for MP began with Hamda Al Qubaisi leading the pack in both Free Practice sessions
A strong weekend for MP began with Hamda Al Qubaisi leading the pack in both Free Practice sessions


Recognising that track evolution would play a key part in Qualifying, 11 drivers opted to wait it out, with only four cars setting a meaningful lap at the six minutes to go mark.

Rodin Carlin’s Jessica Edgar had taken control of the first session early on, setting a 1:43.177, but was quickly demoted as a stream of cars flooded out. Alpine junior Abbi Pulling momentarily went top, before Hamda Al Qubaisi and Emely De Heus broke into the 1:41s.

The Briton responded with a 1:41.594, but De Heus still had more time to find, seizing her first pole position by 0.035s with a 1:41.344. Bühler also benefitted from a last-gasp improvement, elevating the Swiss racer to second, with Pulling’s effort remaining good enough for P3.

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Continuing their waiting game into the second Qualifying session, times proved to be nip-and-tuck throughout. Pulling bettered Qualifying 1’s fastest effort on a 1:41.290 as times rapidly tumbled. Hamda Al Qubaisi and Bühler both went inside the 1:40s, but the ART Grand Prix driver wasn’t quite done yet. With one final flying lap, Bühler pipped Hamda Al Qubaisi to pole by nine thousandths, with Standings leader Marta García earning a second row start.


Starting on pole, the nerves were undoubtedly there for De Heus as the lights went out. Despite enjoying a solid start, it couldn’t compare to Bühler’s phenomenal getaway from second, launching her into the lead by Turn 1.

Hamda Al Qubaisi was also on a charge, dispatching Pulling into the first corner to move up into the podium positions and then tried to put the pressure on her MP teammate. Fending her off, De Heus’ eyes were fully focused on Bühler ahead, who had extended her advantage out front to over a second.

Bühler looked on course for her maiden victory in Race 1 but it would be De Heus who ultimately brought home the honours
Bühler looked on course for her maiden victory in Race 1, but it would be De Heus who ultimately brought home the honours

However, things would dramatically turn on their head in the latter stages. Hamda Al Qubaisi would be forced to retire with an issue and then with three laps to go, disaster struck for race leader Bühler. Sitting comfortably with a three-second advantage, the gap disappeared in a blink as the ART driver trundled to a halt, pulling up at the side of the track with an issue.

Inheriting the lead, De Heus never looked back as she earned the Dutch squad’s third win of the campaign. Taking the chequered flag three seconds clear of second place Pulling, it began a run of seven consecutive points-scoring finishes for the Dutch driver, having only achieved two across the previous six races.

PREMA Racing’s García and Bianca Bustamante had been locked in a fierce battle from the opening lap, with it all coming to ahead in a final lap battle for the last podium spot. Gambling on a move into the second to last corner, Bustamante’s attempt to get through on the inside line was rebuffed, allowing the Spaniard to hold on to her fourth podium finish in seven races.

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Speaking after the podium, De Heus reflected: “It feels really good. It’s also my first podium of the season, and in cars. I didn’t expect it to be honest when I got to Barcelona, but I’m really happy about it.

“At the start I was a bit nervous to be honest, and then it went away. I lost a position to Lena and then, after Léna got a bit of damage on the car, I don’t know what happened but all the oil got on my car so I thought it was raining. I didn’t see anything anymore, so I was stressing (about it). I could keep driving and I finished first. I was really happy because I got a lot of bad luck in other weekends, so I’m happy I got some good points.”

A rapid getaway was just what Amna Al Qubaisi needed as she went on to snatch victory in Race 2
A rapid getaway was just what Amna Al Qubaisi needed as she went on to snatch victory in Race 2


The second race of the day saw MP shine once more. Lining up on the reverse grid front row, Amna Al Qubaisi timed her start to perfection, blistering past Martí into the lead. The duo set about putting some clean air between them and the pack behind, building a 1.2s gap over García in third.

It wouldn’t be long before Amna Al Qubaisi dropped the Campos Racing driver. Seemingly managing an issue behind the wheel, Martí steadily slid back into the clutches of García, with Pulling, Bühler and Hamda Al Qubaisi in turn following through.

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Without a rival insight, Amna Al Qubaisi kept her head down to secure victory 4.1s clear of the PREMA driver, whilst Pulling made it back-to-back podiums for Rodin Carlin in third.

“It’s pretty phenomenal — a second win. From the race start, I had my head down and it was basically just tunnel vision from there,” the Emirati driver explained. “I think it was the cooler conditions, I had more advantage in them and a really good start. From there, I was head down, focusing corner by corner and pulling that gap. Then, just putting all my sectors together.”

In fine form all weekend Bühlers Saturday sorrows turned into Sunday celebrations as she reigned supreme in Race 3
In fine form all weekend, Bühler's Saturday sorrows turned into Sunday celebrations as she reigned supreme in Race 3


Denied victory in Race 1 and narrowly missing out on a podium in Race 2, Bühler was on a mission to avenge her disappointments in the third and final race of Round 3.

From the moment the lights went out, the Sauber Academy driver was in full control. With a single-minded determination to win, she got the race off to a dream start, covering off Hamda Al Qubaisi and García with a swift swoop to the right.

Her advantage seemed to grow corner by corner, as those behind focused on battles surrounding them. Pulling momentarily lost fourth to Amna Al Qubaisi, but quickly repaid the favour with an overtake of her own a few corners later.

Lola Lovinfosse demonstrated her overtaking chops as she climbed her way up the top 10, dispatching Bustamante and fending off Martí’s attempts to regain her lost position. After sneaking past Rodin Carlin’s Megan Gilkes into Turn 1 on Lap 9, the French racer set about closing the gap to Saturday race winner De Heus and Amna Al Qubaisi inside the top six.

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With time running out and the laps counting down, Lovinfosse wasn’t waiting around. Unable to make her first attempt stick, she capitalised on the three-way scrap, diving down the inside of the Dutch driver through Turn 1. Meanwhile, the second MP car of Amna Al Qubaisi received a five-second penalty for track limits, promoting Lovinfosse to fifth.

Nobody could touch Bühler and the Swiss driver joyfully took home her first win by three seconds, after three previous podium finishes. Recapping the rollercoaster of fortunes she’d experienced that weekend, she said: “I’m really happy, finally, to win a race. Yesterday I was supposed to win, but I had a mechanical issue, I broke my gearbox. It was a shame and I lost a lot of points, but I had the pace throughout the weekend. I did a lot of work with the team and I’m really happy with the progress that we’ve done this weekend.”

Hamda Al Qubaisi claimed second, whilst García went three for three in third. The PREMA driver left Barcelona on 135 points, giving her a 41-point buffer over Hamda Al Qubaisi in the Drivers’ Standings. Crucially for Bühler, her victory elevated her into the top three — a spot she wouldn’t leave for the remainder of the season.