The longest-running Formula Regional series has rebranded, or split into two, or been reborn. Either way, there’s new drivers, new teams and new races to get excited about
After two years being based exclusively in the United Arab Emirates, the Formula Regional Asian Championship decided for 2023 it would become a multi-nation series once more and swap one of its Emirati rounds for a trip to Kuwait.
That soon became two rounds, and FRegional Middle East was created via a rebranding of FRAC. That frees up the FRAC name to be used in eastern Asia, where that series had originally been based, which is what its promoter is planning.
For now it looks like FRMEC will be part of the winter series landscape for years to come, with FRAC being revived at a later date to act as a year-long continental counterpart to FRegional Europe.
And as the first international junior single-seater series to get racing underway in 2023, FRMEC has attracted a healthy grid of drivers looking for experience, exposure and FIA superlicence points.
The sole British team on the grid has six drivers split over four cars. Doing the full five-round season will be British and Spanish Formula 4 graduate Daniel Mavlyutov and the FRegional-experienced Sebastian Montoya.
Mavlyutov’s motorsport debut came in the 2021 Formula Ford Festival, and following that he did two more FF1600 events before joining Hitech in British F4. Despite his near total lack of racing experience he still claimed a top-10 result, but expectations won’t be to repeat that on the step up to FRegional.
The interesting thing about Montoya’s campaign is what colours his car will be adorned in. The son of CART champion and Formula 1 race-winner Juan Pablo is set to become a Red Bull junior this year, although the F1 team is yet to confirm it.
He raced in FRAC last year, winning on debut and coming seventh in the standings despite missing two rounds. After that he came 13th in FREC with Prema.
Jak Crawford and Gabriele Mini will both be doing the first three rounds (Dubai Autodrome and two trips to Kuwait Motor Town) before handing their cars over to Alex Dunne and a yet-to-be named driver.
Crawford drove for Hitech in the 2021 FIA Formula 3 season, and moved to Prema last year to contest FRAC and FIA F3. He is tipped to be moving up to Formula 2 with Hitech this year.
Mini did four of the five FRAC rounds last year with Hitech, winning two races, claiming one pole and coming fourth in the standings. After racing for ART Grand Prix in FREC, where he was runner-up, he will not only reunite with Hitech for next few weeks but also for the step up to FIA F3.
Mavlyutov’s F4 team-mate Dunne had a stellar 2022, winning twice in F4 UAE, romping to the British F4 title and also coming second in Italian F4 with US Racing.
Hyderabad Blackbirds powered by MP
For MP Motorsport’s four-car FRMEC attack, three cars will be entered as Hyderabad Blackbirds in a similar fashion to how Prema has competed in FRAC as ‘Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema’ in the past.
Hyderabad is one of the franchise teams from the Indian Racing League, a series that uses open-top prototype sportscars, and follows the path set by fellow city franchise Mumbai Falcons which has had Prema run its FRAC cars.
Mari Boya rejoined MP midway through the 2022 FREC season, having previously come second in Spanish F4 for the team, and he has signed for 2023 to do the full FRMEC and FIA F3 seasons with the Dutch outfit.
His full-time team-mates will be F2-bound Brad Benavides, whose car racing career was part-time until he joined Carlin in FIA F3 last year, and MP’s FREC podium-finisher Sami Meguetounif [pictured above].
Several drivers will be rotated in the team’s fourth car, although it is not clear yet whether this is the non-Hyderabad entry or not, and only Sebastian Ogaard has been announced for that car so far. He was Spanish F4 runner-up in 2021, has done six races in FREC and won in Euroformula last year before leaving the series after four weekends.
Prema will once again be the key technical force behind this Indian team’s cars, and the combination took both of the main titles in FRAC last year. It has possibly the most exciting line-up this year, with Mercedes F1-backed ADAC and Italian F4 champion and Motorsport Games gold medallist Andrea Kimi Antonelli joined by his F4 title rival and Ferrari junior Rafael Camara and FREC driver Lorenzo Fluxa for the full season, while reigning FREC champion and Ferrari junior Dino Beganovic will do the first two rounds before handing over his car to F4 race-winner Kirill Smal.
Antonelli, Camara and Fluxa will reunite after the FRMEC season as Prema’s FREC line-up, making the coming weeks a useful indicator for how the trio will perform later in 2023.
The growing German squad first absorbed Mucke Motorsport’s single-seater personnel upon its creation last year, and has now merged with Charouz Racing System to race in F2 and F3.
For its expansion into FRMEC it will do things independently, and has promoted two drivers from its 2022 F4 line-up.
ADAC F4 runner-up and former Nico Rosberg protege Taylor Barnard is in the first car, and Russian Nikita Bedrin is in the second. Both drivers were winners in F4 UAE with the team in its first ever racing campaign, and both are also set to step up to FIA F3 this year and have been linked to seats at Jenzer Motorsport and PHM.
Piloting PHM’s third FRMEC entry is Joshua Dufek, who came ninth in FREC last season with three podiums and was the second-best rookie in the standings.
A tie-up between Irish-owned Asian team Pinnacle Motorsport and the Netherlands’ Van Amersfoort Racing, this is a formalisation of an alliance that already existed.
VAR had sent several of its contracted F4 drivers and engineers to race for Pinnacle in the Middle East in the past, and is now enacting a co-running partnership like it has with Spanish team Monlau Motorsport.
Only racing part-time in FRMEC will be Fernando Alonso protege Pepe Marti, the 2022 FRAC runner-up with Pinnacle [pictured below], while Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak, Niels Koolen and Rafael Villagomez will do all five rounds.
Inthraphuvasak will be looking to build upon an impressive debut FRegional campaign in the France-based Ultimate Cup Series, where he claimed five wins, three poles and six fastest laps from the six races he contested.
He knows two of the FRMEC tracks already, as a F4 UAE race-winner, and last year also won in Spanish F4.
Villagomez’s backing helped VAR’s expansion into F2 and FIA F3 in 2022, and he has already spent two years racing at the F3 level with the team, while Koolen only has three weekends of single-seater racing experience under his belt from F4.
Running under Prema’s own banner will be South Korean single-seater racing sophomore Michael Shin and his fellow British F4 grauduate Aiden Neate.
Shin had just over a year of kart racing experience before he began testing cars, and in 2020 came to the United Kingdom under the tutelage of driver coach Callan O’Keeffe and the JHR Developments team to do further testing.
His race debut came with JHR last year in F4 UAE, where his best finish was a 12th place, then he joined Virtuosi Racing for British F4 where he claimed fastest lap in his second race and won a reversed-grid encounter in his fifth race. The year ended with another reversed-grid podium, and he came 11th in the points. He has since been testing more powerful machinery.
Neate, The son of British Touring Car racer Andy, has spent the past two years in British F4 with Argenti Motorsport and has claimed two wins and two pole positions. He also has top-five finishes in French F4 and last year joined Prema for F4 UAE. Despite not winning a race, finishing on the podium nine times in 20 races put him third in the standings.
The French outfit is another to have signed six drivers for four cars, and its two full-timers are Hungarian FREC racer Levente Revesz and American-Indian-Singaporean racer Nikhil Bohra, who raced in three F4 series last year.
Francesco Braschi and Martinius Stenshorne will share driving duties in R-ace’s third car. Braschi drove for four teams in FREC last year, including R-ace, and he will do the opening two FRMEC rounds before handing his seat over.
Stenshorne is a protege of Nicolas Todt, and made his single-seater debut with R-ace in the 2022 F4 UAE championship. He made the podium there, and also in Italian F4 with VAR.
Matias Zagazeta [pictured above] and Tim Tramnitz share the fourth car, with both looking to build on tricky rookie FREC campaigns after being championship runners-up in F4 in 2021.
Zagazeta was second in the British series two years ago, while Tramnitz came second in ADAC and Italian F4.
This Chinese team is another relatively young entity, which won the 2022 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title. It has also ventured into single-seaters by entering the Open Formula Challenge, a new Chinese series that ended up taking place over only round at Zhuhai last September.
The FRegional cars it ran there will now be campaigned in FRMEC, with a line-up consisting of Alonso protege Cenyu Han, who has half a FREC season under his belt, Italian F4 graduate Giovanni Maschio and Zhongwei Wang, who came 17th in Chinese F4 in 2021 and claimed a podium for R&B Racing in Open FChallenge’s inaugural event.