Formula 4 United Arab Emirates points leader James Wharton will start races one and three of this weekend’s title-deciding round from pole after topping both qualifying sessions.
The Mumbai Falcons driver was challenged at first by Yas Heat Academy’s Keanu Al Azhari in Q1, with his title rivals several tenths of a second off the benchmark pace being set by the Australian.
Track limits violations meant many drivers had their best laptimes deleted, and the order on the timesheet was often changing further down the 40-car entry list.
With 30 seconds to go of the first session, Wharton improved his pace with a 1m57.129s lap, comfortably enough for pole as his previous benchmark – a 1m57.236s – was not bettered by main title rival and team-mate Tuukka Taponen who rose into second place.
Al Azhari was shuffled down to third, while Hitech GP’s Arvid Lindblad qualified fourth with his final lap.
MP Motorsport’s Pedro Clerot completed the top five, while Wharton’s other title rivals Ugo Ugochukwu (Prema) and Valerio Rinicella (MP) could only qualify ninth and 14th repsectively, although were each less than a second off pole.
Pinnacle VAR’s Brando Badoer was the early pacesetter in Q2, with Ugochukwu briefly holding top spot before Badoer moved back ahead and Carlin’s Dion Gowda slotted into second place.
Taponen then brought the pace down into the 1m47s, with Ugochukwu, Al Azhari going secons and third fastest while Wharton wa down in 35th place with seven minutes to go of the session.
His next lap was his first proper flying lap though and it sent him straight to the top, while Taponen was one of many drivers who was then pinged for track limits abuse.
Wharton provisionally held pole by 0.272 seconds over Rinicella, who could not find any more pace in the final five minutes.
He ended up qualifying fifth, and Wharton held on to pole despite also being unable to improve.
His pole margin ending up being just 0.001s, as Ugochukwu improved to make it onto the front row ahead of Taponen and Al Azhari. If the title fight goes to the final race, it means the four current title contenders will be starting in the top five together.
Race 1 grid
1 James Wharton Mumbai Falcons 1m57.129s
2 Tuukka Taponen Mumbai Falcons +0.185s
3 Keanu Al Azhari Yas Heat Academy +0.266s
4 Arvid Lindblad Hitech GP +0.313s
5 Pedro Clerot MP Motorsport +0.399s
6 Federico Rifai Xcel Motorsport +0.414s
7 Kanato Le Hitech GP +0.464s
8 Muhammad Ibrahim Mumbai Falcons +0.504s
9 Ugo Ugochukwu Prema +0.580s
10 Akshay Bohra PHM Racing +0.581s
Race 3 grid
1 Wharton 1m56.662s
2 Ugochukwu +0.001s
3 Taponen +0.134s
4 Al Azhari +0.138s
5 Valerio Rinicella MP Motorsport +0.272s
6 Lindblad +0.370s
7 Noah Lisle Xcel Motorsport +0.660s
8 Rifai +0.718s
9 James Piszcyk Hitech GP +0.727s
10 Clerot +0.729s