F4 UAE has a new car, new teams and more eyes on it than usual this year as it heralds the introduction of a new era for Formula 4 racing with Tatuus’s halo-shod Gen2 machinery
Last month’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wasn’t just a momentous moment in Formula 1 history, but the Sunday was also important in junior single-seaters because it marked the first race for a second-generation Formula 4 chassis design.
The Tatuus T-421, after three months of testing in Italy, debuted at Yas Marina Circuit and bar a few undocumented technical issues it was a mostly trouble-free event for the car. Some of the inexperienced racers had spins and clashes so there were only eight finishers, but there were only 10 starters because there was a tumultuous path to the event for the car.
A combination of factors led to manufacturing delays of certain parts, particularly the ECU, that would go into the T-421, and then when it came to delivering orders the priority was going to be sending chassis out to those competing in F4 United Arab Emirates first. That did happen, with Prema, Global Racing Service, Hitech GP, MP Motorsport and Xcel Motorsport all getting their cars in time. Because the car would race in the UAE before anywhere else, drivers and teams wanted to compete in the F1 support race and the winter series to get a head-start on learning the intricacies of the new design.
Xcel’s cars went straight to the UAE because that’s where the team is based. The other teams entering the non-championship round all hailed from Europe, and therefore needed to ship out their cars to the Middle East after receiving them but only once it had been confirmed F4 would be on F1’s support bill. But that came at the start of December, with the Abu Dhabi GP on the 12th day of the month, and so teams had already had to gamble on loading the cars onto boats (for a journey of a few weeks) so they would at least be present for the start of the 2022 F4 UAE season.
Prema diverged though by sending its four vehicles out on air freight, and it meant it avoided the fracas that occurred next.
While the plane carrying its cars could land safely in the UAE and the cars could then be taken by road to Yas Marina, the ships travelling through the Persian Gulf were encountering issues. Some were stopped and unable to send their cargo on, others were simply delayed. MP managed to get its four cars to the track, while GRS and Hitech were stuck in limbo.
At first there was a single race on the schedule, but F1 expanded it to two with a few days to go despite F4 UAE issuing a statement it would in fact be changing from an initially planned two races to one.
Before shakedown on Thursday evening of the race weekend it then reverted back to one race on Sunday and with qualifying moving from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning in the slot race one did occupy. The track time that had been given to qualifying on Friday then became a second free practice session instead.
An agreement was made for GRS’s driver Vladislav Ryabov to race in one of MP’s cars so not to waste his trip, and a few days later pre-season testing took place at Dubai Autodrome and Hitech appeared with its two chassis, both shaken down in their plain carbon liveries by British F4 champion Luke Browning. Cram, racing in F4 UAE in partnership with Hitech, turned up with two of its own cars, new German team PHM Racing arrived with three and Pinnacle Motorsport had its sole car running too.
The teams that didn’t get to race pushed for more test days and the organiser behind the series did present possible dates at Dubai and Yas Marina. However those talks proved fruitless, and the planned running at Dubai on January 6 and 8 then got called off as a testing blackout window was applied until today (Wednesday), with a pre-event test occurring at Yas Marina this week the day before the season – consisting of five rounds over five weeks – begins.
With some teams still only able to arrive in the UAE with one car, or with drivers seeking to retain rookie status for European championships by contesting only some rounds, there will be several rotating line-ups. In the second Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema car, single-seater debutant and Ferrari junior James Wharton will do the first two rounds before handing over to Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli. He will do the second of the three consecutive Dubai rounds, with 2020 Danish F4 champion Conrad Laursen doing the last of those and the Yas Marina season finale.
Mumbai Falcons is entering one car with technical support from Xcel, with Sohil Shah starting the season and his fellow Indian Yash Aradhya ending it. At MP, Giancarlo Fisichella’s racing student Valerio Rinicella will miss the first round due to not yet being 15 years old, and it has just made two late additions to its five-car line-up in British F4 race-winner Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak and Spanish F4 frontrunner Rik Koen who is only confirmed for round one.
AKM Motorsport, a team that is a combination of Antonelli’s father’s sportscar squad and Dino Chiesa’s Kart Republic manufacturer, left it late to announce its drivers, and its second signing Brando Badoer is set to miss the season finale.
Xcel announced three drivers on the week of the first race two Uzbekistan’s Ismoilkhuja Akhmedkhodjaev has done the CIK-FIA European Karting Championship on OK karts for the past two years, Portugal’s Ivan Domingues was a rookie in the same machinery in 2021 and was 34th in the European championship, and Jamie Day did F4 UAE last year.
Belgian karting graduates Jules Castro and Jef Machiels will share driving duties at Pinnacle, with Machiels taking over from Castro after round two. Carlin meanwhile is yet to announce any of its drivers. But of the full-season entries elsewhere on the grid, there’s certainly a few to keep your eyes on:
Four from F4 to watch…
Charlie Wurz, son of ex-Formula 1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Alex, heads Prema’s two-car main team. He won the non-championship race at the Abu Dhabi GP and in 2021 also raced in Italian F4 part-time, scoring a best result of fourth. Given how quickly he adapted to the car last month on a track that appears twice in F4 UAE, he will surely start as a title favourite.
Nikita Bedrin has joined PHM for his second go at F4 UAE after debuting in the series last year. He made the podium once in three rounds, then went to enjoy a successful year with Van Amersfoort Racing in Europe. He took the rookie classification titles in ADAC and Italian F4, and a win in each series. PHM, which markets itself as not-for-profit (which many loss-operating teams are) and is made up of ex-Mucke Motorsport personnel, will make its racing debut with three cars.
Hitech is boosting its own F4 experience, having only previously done the Motorsport Games F4 Cup and with no opposition, by teaming up with experienced Italian squad Cram. The team has two F4 sophomores in Alex Dunne and Oliver Gray. Dunne took pole on his car racing debut in Spanish F4 before he split with his team mid-season then impressed on three outings with US Racing in ADAC F4, taking two pole positions and eighth in the final standings.
Gray made his car racing debut in British F4 with Fortec Motorsports, having graduated from senior karting. Two wins and two poles at Thruxton helped him to seventh in the standings, and he appeared in Italian F4 twice at the end of the season. He has been used as a reference driver for McLaren junior Ugo Ugochukwu in testing during the off-season.
…and three coming from karts
Ferrari junior Rafael Camara will be team-mate to Wurz for his single-seater debut. The Brazilian 16-year-old was one of the standout performers on the international scene in senior OK karts in 2021, winning the Champions of the Future and Super Masters Series titles and WSK Champions Cup, although he was pipped by Antonelli to the CIK-FIA European crown. The two karting rivals were Kart Republic team-mates, they will be at Prema in the UAE and then Italian F4, and Antonelli will take Camara’s place for this weekend’s races due to “health reasons” impacting the Brazilian.
Nicolas Todt’s 15-year-old Norwegian karting protege Martinius Stenshorne debuts with R-ace GP, the French team running its cars in conjunction with the local 3Y Technology team. In 2021 he raced for the Charles Leclerc-branded Lennox Racing Team as a rookie in OK karts, and came 10th in CotF. He is yet to announce what he will be doing next.
Infamous F1 driver Luca Badoer’s son Brando (pictured below, centre) was a consistent frontrunner in European karting last year against the above two drivers as a rookie, coming ninth in the Champions Cup and the WSK Euro Series. He dabbled in shifter karting too, and has tested with AKM in first-generation F4 cars since last June. Badoer also did a test with VAR. While his father is best known for his dire two grands prix with Ferrari in 2009, he was 1992 champion of International Formula 3000 (the Formula 2 of its day).
Written by Roger Gascoigne and Ida Wood
Our latest podcast episode previews Formula Regional Asian Championship and F4 UAE, and can be found right here or on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
F4 UAE entry list
|Xcel Motorsport||#3||Lucas Alanen||No racing|
|#6||Nandhavud Bhirombhakdi||F4 testing|
|#11||Ismoilkhuja Akhmedkhodjaev||Senior karting|
|#24||Jamie Day||6th in F4 UAE|
|#89||Ivan Domingues||Senior karting|
|Cram-Hitech GP||#4||Alex Dunne||8th in ADAC F4|
|#5||Oliver Gray||7th in British F4|
|#27||Ricardo Escotto||Senior karting|
|#33||Anshul Gandhi||33rd in Spanish F4|
|Abu Dhabi Racing||#13||Andrea Kimi Antonelli||10th in Italian F4|
|#13||James Wharton||Senior karting|
|#13||Conrad Laursen||9th in Italian F4|
|#57||Aiden Neate||9th in British F4|
|Prema||#7||Charlie Wurz||20th in Italian F4|
|#||Rafael Camara||Senior karting|
|Mumbai Falcons||#28||Yash Aradhya||No racing|
|#28||Sohil Shah||No racing|
|3Y Technology/R-ace GP||#45||Martinius Stenshorne||Senior karting|
|#46||Victor Blokhina||Senior karting|
|#47||Nikhil Bohra||22nd in ADAC F4|
|MP Motorsport||#9||Rik Koen||6th in Spanish F4|
|#14||Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak||5th in F4 UAE|
|#25||Suleiman Zanfari||11th in Spanish F4|
|#55||Miron Pingasov||20th in Spanish F4|
|#||Valerio Rinicella||Senior karting|
|PHM Racing||#15||Nikita Bedrin||5th in ADAC F4|
|#41||Jonas Ried||9th in F4 UAE|
|#77||Taylor Barnard||17th in ADAC F4|
|AKM Motorsport||#19||Brando Badoer||Senior karting|
|#91||Eron Rexhepi||41st in Italian F4|
|Pinnacle Motorsport||#96||Jules Castro||No racing|
|#96||Jef Machiels||No racing|
|Global Racing Service||#26||Vladislav Ryabov||8th in Spanish F4|
|JHR Developments||#42||Michael Shin||F4 testing|