Home Formula 4ADAC F4 F4 season review: Double champion Antonelli in a class of his own

F4 season review: Double champion Antonelli in a class of his own

by Roger Gascoigne

Photos: Prema

It’s hard to think of new superlatives to describe Kimi Antonelli’s 2022 F4 campaigns in Germany and Italy. The F1 junior took an incredible 22 wins from 35 races to complete a rare title double

In the end, and surprisingly so given the superiority of the champion of both, the title fight in the ADAC and Italian Formula 4 championships this year went down to the final round, with Taylor Barnard and Alex Dunne respetively holding outside shots.

However, while Andrea Kimi Antonelli’s closest rival may have been different in each championship, his class was a constant at all venues, in all conditions and from the beginning of the season to the end. A thoroughly worthy champion.

Having watched Dutch rival Van Amersfoort Racing become the first ever team to take a clean sweep of titles across both series in 2021, Prema bounced back in style to steamroller the opposition in the first year with the second-generation, halo-shod Tatuus T-421 chassis.

The train of red-and-white Prema cars at the front of the field, usually headed by Antonelli, inevitably provoked some mutterings of unequal equipment from those lagging in their wake. In truth, Prema simply did a more professional job.

The team undoubtedly benefitted hugely from the experience it gained with the new car over the winter in the United Arab Emirates’ F4 series, netting another trophy in the process and giving it a head start over its rivals on the return to Europe.

And its driver line-up was unmatched, comprising talents from the junior academies of Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes.

The Italian championship itself continued to go from strength-to-strength, firmly establishing itself as Europe’s pre-eminent F4 series, both in terms of the quality and quantity of its field. There were 55 drivers competed in at least one round, with a peak of 44 at Monza.

Photo: ACI Sport

At the Red Bull Ring, a track with a lower grid capacity, the field even had to split into three heats and a final. Inevitably, having so many cars on track resulted in more safety car periods and red flags.

Both ADAC and Italian F4 retained Abarth engines and Pirelli tyres from Gen1, allowing teams to run dual campaigns although in fact only two teams, Jenzer Motorsport and newcomer PHM Racing, ran a full season on both sides of the Alps.

Despite, or possibly because of the technical uniformity, the German series, once considered Italy’s equal, continued to fade and falter despite revising its calendar to focus on supposedly more attractive tracks and increasing the prize money on offer. The ADAC has decided not to run its championship in 2023 – a sad end after eight largely successful seasons.

Antonelli’s home crown

After impressing in last year’s final three rounds, Antonelli was hot favourite for the 2022 title when the season began at a wet Imola. But unfortunately, as he himself concedes, “the weekend was quite a bit of a disaster” – whatever could go wrong, did go wrong.

It was, he reflects, “a mix of bad luck and also I made some mistakes”. A gearbox issue put him out of race one while leading, and in race two he had to pit to replace his front wing as he tried to make up places after “quali two didn’t go as planned”.

After incurring a 10-second penalty for running into team-mate James Wharton in race three, Antonelli left Imola with just one point.

“Mentally, I wasn’t really on it. I was a bit frustrated, and I couldn’t really handle the emotions that weekend,” Antonelli reflects.

“So that brings me to do also mistakes during the races, especially race two where I had a good first lap and then I lost the front wing by cutting on a kerb too aggressively and race three because I had contact with my team-mate.”

Photo: ACI Sport

Instead, it was Alex Dunne who headed the standings with a win, a second and a third in Imola, none of them straightforward as he had to come from outside the top five on the grid on each occasion.

Dunne was back at US Racing, for whom he had made three appearances in Germany in the second half of 2021, for a full season in Italy in parallel with what was ultimately a successful assault on the British F4 title with Hitech GP.

Ferrari junior Rafael Camara had taken victory for Prema when Antonelli’s gearbox faltered but had to start race two from the back after engine problems in qualifying, making up 23 places in what would become a trademark charge through the field.

The surprise of the weekend was Dunne’s team-mate Kacper Sztuka, who took a win and a second, having failed to score a point as a rookie in 2021.

Antonelli’s first win came in the Misano opener after a race-long duel with Camara, and he followed it up with a more dominant win in race two. The Prema duo battled again in race three as a safety car allowed Camara to grab the lead in a frenetic conclusion to the race. Amazingly, that would be Camara’s last win as Antonelli embarked on a dominant unbeaten run that ran until September.

Italian F4 made its first ever visit to Spa-Francorchamps for round three, and there was plenty of action as Antonelli had to work hard for his first hat-trick of the campaign. Race two there was a slipstreaming thriller between Antonelli and Camara.

Antonelli’s job was made easier in race two as poleman Camara stalled on the grid, dropping to 34th before putting in an exhilarating recovery drive to take the final podium position.

In round four at Vallelunga, Antonelli was flawless – three poles, three wins, three fastest laps – as he resisted lap one challenges before pulling away to take maximum points with Camara again his closest rival. His sixth victory of the season in race one earned him the points lead for the first time.

Photo: ACI Sport

The capacity 40-car entry for round five at the Red Bull Ring necessitated the four-race format, with each driver participating in two of the three heats, the results of which determined the grid, and the non-qualifiers, for race four.

Changeable conditions meant that the opening two races both took place on a wet but drying track, with Dunne and Antonelli victorious. Antonelli’s Italian F4 winning streak finally came to an end after a puncture dropped him from contention in race three, with Sztuka claiming his second win of the year.

Dunne held off challenges from Sztuka and then a recovering Antonelli to win race four and keep his title hopes going.

Atrocious weather at Monza for the penultimate round meant only two races took place. Charlie Wurz scored his sole victory of the year from pole in race one as an off-track excursion, helped by team-mate Camara, forced Antonelli to the pits to replace his front wing, the Italian rebounding to take race two.

Dunne, who had opted to skip the British F4 title-deciding finale to chase Italian honours, moved ahead of Camara in the fight for second place, although the gap of 47 points to Antonelli left him with an almost impossible task in Mugello in the title fight. Consolation came with the news from Brands Hatch that he had clinched the British series in absentia.

Antonelli was back to his imperious best in Tuscany, with arguably his most impressive performance of the year, as he drove away from the opposition to take his third Italian hat-trick.

Behind him, two second places for Dunne left Camara needing a win in race three, which he would start from pole, to take second overall. Unfortunately, an overly-ambitious move from the US Racing driver saw him hit the back of the Prema car into turn one, eliminating Camara on the spot and incurring a drive-through penalty.

Due to a quirk of the regulations, Antonelli was still considered a rookie, despite having started 17 F4 races before the season started, and therefore comfortably claimed the rookie trophy ahead of Camara and F4 UAE champion Wurz.

Photo: ACI Sport

Prema was clearly the outstanding team, winning its title by 292 points. It scored 803 points; the other 14 teams scored 928.

Antonelli’s dominance cast long shadows over the results of his Prema team-mates, although Antonelli is the first to acknowledge the role the whole squad played in developing the car into the category benchmark.

Camara was unable to build on his Imola win. The pace was there, evidenced by four pole positions, but frustratingly he often seemed to lose out in wheel-to-wheel combat with the exception of his aggressive but fair move on Antonelli at Misano. The rivalry between the more introverted Camara and the effervescent Antonelli will continue for many years, not least in Formula Regional European Championship in 2023.

Wharton and Wurz ran consistently in the leading pack, or the group behind Antonelli at least, but their results should certainly have been better in Prema-run cars. Aside from Wurz’s win, they could only manage three podiums apiece.

Wurz had too few moments reminiscent of his title-winning start to the year in the UAE, but when he was on form he was the match of his rivals, while greater progress was expected of Wharton considering his testing miles prior to his race debut.

Having been pipped to last year’s rookie title, Prema’s fifth full-time driver Conrad Laursen rarely looked like challenging his team-mates. Tenth in the standings was one position lower than he achieved in 2021.

The impressive Dunne was the only non-Prema driver able to regularly challenge for wins, with team-mate Sztuka often not far behind, the pair taking five wins between them. Dunne’s performance to take the fight to Prema was particularly praiseworthy having never raced on the Italian tracks before.

It is probably not by coincidence that his two strongest weekends came in wet-dry conditions at Imola and the Red Bull Ring, where his natural car control could shine. Three fastest laps and some well-executed overtakes evidenced his race pace although on the only occasion he topped qualifying he would incur a five place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags.

Photo: ACI Sport

VAR had a disappointing year with an all-rookie line-up, dropping to fourth in the teams’ standings behind US and PHM.

It gradually got on top of its setup for the T-421, with Martinius Stenshorne leading the Dutch squad. He was a consistent points finisher, finally grabbing two thoroughly-deserved podiums in the last two rounds to come seventh in the standings.

VAR’s two sons of illustrious racing fathers, Emmo Fittipaldi and Brando Badoer, endured tough years. Except for Badoer’s fifth in the first Red Bull Ring ‘heat’, neither finished higher than ninth. More had been expected of both, particularly Fittipaldi who had a race-winning Danish F4 season already under his belt.

Italian F4’s 2021 rookie champion Nikita Bedrin was happy to still be racing, having been rescued by PHM. He took two podiums but was largely outperformed by team-mate Taylor Barnard. PHM did well to be third in the teams’ standings, and saved uts most impressive performances for back home in Germany.

Four well-connected karters made their debuts at the Red Bull Ring. Dunne’s British F4 rival Ugo Ugochukwu joined Prema for two rounds to gain race experience on European tracks. The lanky McLaren-backed American was immediately a threat, taking podiums in all three of his races in Austria, followed by another at Mugello.

Red Bull’s Arvid Lindblad didn’t have quite as extensive testing programme prior to his debut, and two top-10 finishes at Monza underlined his potential, although two fluffed starts rather wasted his excellent qualifying showing at Mugello.

Niko Lacorte, son of Cetilar Racing founder and Le Mans racer Roberto, scored on his debut, while Sauber karter Zachary David made an immediate impression for US Racing, topping pre-event testing in Austria and taking a seventh place at Monza.

Ugochukwu, Lindblad and Lacorte have all impressed in post-season testing with Prema ahead of full seasons in 2023.

Photo: ACI Sport

FREC star Hadrien David was a surprise Italian F4 debutant at Monza, the Alpine-affiliated Frenchman having been drafted in by R-ace GP to help the team get to the bottom of its season-long lack of speed. David was on the pace straightaway, indicating that the team’s problems had been largely driver-related, despite Frederik Lund’s slightly fortunate pole at Imola.

In addition to Dunne, Antonelli and Wurz, a fourth F4 champion also made a cameo appearance in the first two rounds with Pedro Clerot taking a best finish of fifth at Imola ahead of his F4 title-winning season in Brazil.

Antonelli reaches new highs as ADAC F4 hits new low

Antonelli’s first F4 coronation was in Germany, where he saw off a surprise challenge from PHM’s Barnard in the final round at the Nurburgring. The former Nico Rosberg karting protege had developed into a consistent frontrunner through 2022.

Initially, Antonelli had been even more dominant in ADAC F4 than at home, with seven wins in the first eight races, an outstanding achievement given that the series, unlike Italian F4, features a reversed-grid race at each event.

Only one driver, Dennis Hauger in 2019, had ever completed a hat-trick of victories in a single weekend in the seven previous seasons of the championship.

Antonelli was simply untouchable in the second round at Hockenheim, topping both qualifying sessions and dominating the opening two races, before picking his way to the front from eighth on the grid to complete his clean sweep.

Remarkably, he came within 0.058s of repeating the feat in the next round at Zandvoort, not normally a circuit associated with plentiful overtaking manoeuvres. With dominant wins in the first two races already in the bank, he carved his way through the field, chasing down Laursen but falling just short of an implausible second clean sweep.

Photo: ADAC

Initially, Prema had only planned to do the first three rounds, and by that point the team already appeared to have an unassailable lead. The top non-Prema driver, Barnard, was 119 points behind Antonelli while Prema had an advantage of 166 points over PHM in the teams’ standings.

However, as Prema decided to travel to the Nurburgring for round four after all in the hope of putting the championships beyond reach, the tide changed. Barnard took both non-reversed grid race wins after close battles with Antonelli in each.

Antonelli crossed the line first in race one before being penalised for jumping the start, while a thrilling race-long duel in race two was decided in Barnard’s favour.

The Lausitzring has never been a popular venue as it provides limited benefit for a career in single-seaters, so Prema unsurprisingly chose to skip round five. Barnard took full advantage of Prema’s absence to take two wins and a second, narrowing the gap to 34 points ahead of the final round.

Prema’s participation in the final round had been in doubt until the last minute but, as Antonelli explained, “we still decided to do Nurburgring because, even though we missed Lausitzring, we were still in the lead [and] we knew we had a chance to win the championship”.

Once the team’s transporters rolled into the Nurburgring paddock, normal service quickly resumed. Prema locked out the first three grid positions for races one and two, and it was Camara who edged Antonelli for his first two ADAC F4 poles.

Antonelli felt that he had learned from his mistakes on the series’ first visit to the Nurburgring, 10 weeks earlier. “I knew I couldn’t permit to myself to do the same mistakes because the title fight was close and any mistake would have cost the title,” he told Formula Scout.

Photo: ADAC

In race one a late pass on Camara brought the Italian to within reach of the title, and he duly wrapped it up with another dominant victory – his ninth of the season – in race two, leaving Barnard the consolation of winning the season finale.

Camara’s season was overshadowed by Antonelli’s dominance. His only win came in a thrilling third race at Spa as he fought his way to the front from seventh. He finished second seven times, behind Antonelli on each occasion, and was forced to miss the first visit to the Nurburgring after a positive COVID-19 test.

Wharton, Wurz and Laursen took part in the first four rounds, with Wharton rejoining the grid for the season finale. Laursen and Wharton each took a reversed-grid win, but could not consistently match the top three’s pace. Ugochukwu joined in as a guest driver for the two Nurburgring rounds, and he netted two podiums.

Meanwhile the arrival of PHM was a breath of fresh air, and, in effect, can be said to have saved ADAC F4 for 2022. The Berlin-based team’s three full-time entries, plus Valentin Kluss once he was old enough to compete, ensured that the field never dipped into single figures.

And the team could take immense satisfaction from its performance in its first year. In reality, the title had never looked to be within reach barring miracles but, as team manager, Roland Rehfeld joked: “At least we forced Prema to attend the last race!”

Barnard’s remote chance of snatching the title from Prema’s grasp ensured a greater level of interest in the second half of the season than had looked likely after Zandvoort. The 18-year-old from Norfolk struggled to make an impression in 2021 with BWR Motorsports as a lack of budget limited him to a part-season and he looked to be on the way out of motorsport before being picked up by PHM.

Having been runner-up in the World and European Karting Championships, much had been expected of Barnard but until this year his performances had disappointed. Yet in 2022 he flourished, developing in confidence, physical strength and speed.

Photo: PHM Racing

After a difficult start with the new team, in the “second half of the season we really got the car in a good window and managed to get some good results,” he said.

“We were never close enough to win the title. But even second, I got a lot closer than I thought I would, so I am very happy.”

Barnard generally had a clear edge over team-mate Bedrin, who had also been ADAC F4’s rookie champion in 2021, and his fights with Antonelli at both Nurburgring rounds would have been inconceivable at the start of the year.

Bedrin was fortunate to find a berth at PHM after his funds dried up in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, losing him his seat at VAR. He had been expected to challenge for the title in his sophomore season and, while he and Barnard were very closely matched on track, the results didn’t follow.

At a soaking wet Lausitz he did annihilate the opposition, taking almost a second per lap out of second-placed Barnard, but one win compared to his team-mates five was a poor return.

After the series dropped to eight cars in one race last year, the ADAC reacted by dropping two of its traditional eastern rounds at Oschersleben and the Sachsenring to try to curry favour with drivers looking for F1 track experience (a difficult proposition in a country absent from the F1 calendar) and boosted its prize fund to €150,000.

Yet, worryingly for the ADAC, only the PHM Racing trio, two of Jenzer’s cars and the single-car Sauter Engineering+Design operation did all six events. The first two rounds attracted 21 cars, with the opening event marking the debut of the T-421 car in Europe and also the first single-seater race on Spa’s revised layout, but the last two rounds attracted only 11.

VAR had been ever-present in ADAC F4 since the series’ birth in 2015, when it fielded Mick Schumacher on his maiden start in cars, but with supply chain issues delaying the delivery of the T-421 chassis to a rapidly expanding customer base, a result of the worldwide success of F4 and Tatuus as a manufacturer, the team was reluctantly forced to withdraw from round one.

Photo: ACI Sport

It attributed the decision to “the late delivery of cars, which has already strongly disrupted our pre-season testing so far”, and felt it could not responsibly field its cars safely in view of the “serious lack of preparation time”. VAR wasn’t the only team affected, as Jenzer’s Samir Ben missed the weekend as his team had yet to recieve its fourth car.

VAR had sought help from the ADAC in either postponing the opening round, impossible due to the prestige involved in racing at Spa for the first time since that opening season in 2015, or to introduce dropped scores to the series.

With the ADAC unable or unwilling to be flexible, VAR did the two following rounds with all of its drivers entered as guest entries, although it initially seemed unaware of that points ineligibility. It then disappeared from the series.

German team US Racing and French squad R-ace meanwhile switched their main focus in 2022 to Italian F4, having run full ADAC F4 campaigns in 2021. The former entered six different drivers between three events, and the latter only did round one.

Marcus Amand led two of the three Spa races for US before dropping back as his tyres fell away, and his best result came in the reversed-grid Hockenheim race where he took an immediate lead before being overwhelmed by a charging Antonelli.

Sztuka came away from Spa with a fourth and a second place, but he was forced to miss Hockenheim for financial reasons. He did return at Lausitz, snatching a podium, albeit in what was undoubtedly the weakest field of the season.

Jenzer’s Rasmus Joutsimies almost claimed the rookie crown thanks to doing all race, despite only taking one overall podium and two wins in the rookie classification. He had less than five points-scoring rookie rivals on average to contend with.

With Antonelli ineligible under the ADAC’s stricter definition of what constitutes a rookie, Camara topped the rookie classification in 11 races out of 12 and claimed the title. Joutsimies beat him in a single race.

Photo: ADAC

PHM’s rookie Kluss had been “leant out” to Jenzer for Italian F4, as PHM team manager Roland Rehfeld explained to Formula Scout: “We have an alliance with Jenzer in F4 [to share] Valentin, he’s contracted to us but due to the Tatuus hassle we said, ‘okay, Jenzer has a car free and is looking for a driver’, so it was just a handshake thing.”

Kluss is highly rated in Germany, particularly as so few of its karters reach single-seaters, and he took a reversed-grid podium at Lausitz.

The wet conditions there brought out the best, and worst, in the series’ favourite underdog: the family-run Michael Sauter. He twice splashed his way up to third at the track, although his car control was not quite able to match his bravery as he was caught out by the conditions and dropped back to fifth in race one, his best result of the year.

The ADAC is generally well-regarded by the teams, but in 2022 it seemed to manage to shoot itself in the foot on several occasions. The introduction of E10 biofuel immediately before Spa raised the hackles of many due to the short notice and added costs, while the unwillingness to allow for a test day at Zandvoort, a unique venue for ADAC F4 and one of its two F1 tracks, due to the need to set up circuit perimeter banners for the GT Masters weekend, both frustrated teams considerably.

By the end of the year, the ADAC F4 series had declined in status to such an extent that it was clearly the weakest of the five large European series, despite the changes made for 2022. As Italian F4 tried to cope with more entries than it had track space for, ADAC F4 was struggling to attract more than 10 cars. Its demise, which hopefully will prove temporary, brings to a close a brief but significant phase in the history of German single-seater racing.

The final story of the year for the two series was the Italian motorsport federation recognising Antonelli’s achievements at home and abroad by awarding him the Autosprint Golden Helmet and the ACI Golden Steering Wheel.

Championship standings

Italian F4 ADAC F4
Pos Driver Points Pos Driver Points
1 Andrea Kimi Antonelli 362 1 Antonelli 313
2 Alex Dunne 258 2 Barnard 266
3 Rafael Camara 239 3 Camara 193
4 Charlie Wurz 198 4 Nikita Bedrin 175
5 James Wharton 166 5 Wharton 146
6 Kacper Sztuka 162 6 Laursen 129
7 Martinius Stenshorne 122 7 Wurz 111
8 Taylor Barnard 103 8 Rasmus Joutsimies 98
9 Marcus Amand 94 9 Jonas Ried 71
10 Conrad Laursen 81 10 Sztuka 64