Home Featured Rookies to watch: 2023 Formula 4 UAE

Rookies to watch: 2023 Formula 4 UAE

by Ida Wood

Photo: F4 UAE

FIA Formula 4’s Gen2 era kicked off in the UAE last winter, and this month the country will again host drivers and teams eager to gain experience of Tatuus’s T-421 car. Who are the new names to look out for?

At least 40 drivers will take part in the 2023 Formula 4 United Arab Emirates season, which oddly is now taking place in Kuwait in addition to the UAE and begins this week. Some are coming into the series with experience of racing higher up the junior single-seater ladder, while others are entirely new to slicks-and-wings racing.

Then there’s those in the middle, drivers who have already got at least a season of F4 experience under their belt or perhaps were at the age in 2022 where they were primarily in karting and only able to make a few appearances later in the year.

There’s two names who stand out in that capacity: Red Bull junior Arvid Lindblad and Ferrari junior Tuukka Taponen.

Lindblad came eighth in the European championship for KZ2 karts last year in his rookie shifter karting campaign, then stepped up to cars with Van Amersfoort Racing in Italian F4. He scored three times in eight races, and will move to Prema for his first full season in the series this year. To warm up for that, he’s joining Hitech GP’s line-up for F4 UAE.

His team-mate in Italy will be Taponen, and in the UAE the Finn will be driving for the Prema-supported Mumbai Falcons team. Last year he was runner-up in the world championship for OK class karts, and won five races out of five in the F4-spec Formula Academy Finland series. Having also won in a 2021 cameo there, he knows Tatuus’s first-generation F4 car well and has since tested extensively in the newer model.

But, considering their preparations and the fact they have proven themselves in F4 already, Formula Scout will not count these two as true F4 rookies.

There’s also several drivers who will only be doing part-seasons, with teams signing more drivers than they have cars to fill.

At MP Motorsport, French F4 race-winner Jeronimo Berrio had been signed to contest at least two rounds including the season opener. However he’s now had to back out of this weekend’s races, and Kirill Smal – a winner in the ADAC, Italian and UAE F4 series – is a last minute call-up taking his place. The team has not confirmed who its drivers will be for round two.

Five F4 rookies to watch in the UAE

Will Macintyre GREAT BRITAIN Hitech GP

Admittedly, Macintyre has already done two weekends in F4, which is only one less than Lindblad and Taponen. But he hasn’t had continuity with his appearances.

He made his debut in the Tatuus T-014 in Britain’s GB4 series last October, joining Elite Motorsport for the last round at Donington Park, claiming fastest lap on debut and then two podiums.

After that he signed with Hitech for this year’s British F4 season, experiencing the Tatuus T-421 in 2022 post-season testing then racing the car in November’s F4 UAE Trophy at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Way back in 2019, Sauber signed Macintyre as one of its juniors in mini karting for select events that year, and after that he progressed with good results into junior and then senior karting.

He started 2022 by making the switch to cars in Ginetta Junior with Elite and won six races en route to the championship runner-up spot, comfortably making him the highest-placed rookie in the series.

Kanato Le JAPAN Hitech GP

The next-best rookie in Ginetta Junior was Le, who was seventh in the standings with two wins and a pole. The Mark Blundell-managed racer tested with multiple F4 teams late last year as he evaluated his future, before settling on joining Hitech. He made his single-seater debut with the team in the F4 UAE Trophy, and finished second in race two of the event.

Le moved from Japan to Britain when he was 13 years old, and embarked on a karting career that culminated in winning the IAME Euro Series and coming second in the 2021 IAME Winter Cup for X30 Junior karts.

Photo: Italiaracing

Keanu Al Azhari UAE Yas Heat Racing

Last year Al Azhari was a rookie in senior and shifter karting, but the highlight of his year came about due to his performance in an F4 car as he won the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy shootout at Navarra.

As a result of that success, he has won a paid-for seat in Spanish F4 with MP for 2023.

Following that, he took part in an academy programme run by Yas Marina Circuit’s own racing team Yas Heat in conjunction with Xcel Motorsport and was one of two winners, providing him with half of the budget needed for the F4 UAE Trophy and then the 2023 season. It looks like he has already adapted to F4 quickly, as he made the podium in both Trophy races at his team’s home.

In karting, Al Azhari was ninth in the Champion of the Future series on OK-Junior karts in 2021, then was 36th in the CIK-FIA European championship and 43rd in the World championship for OK karts in 2022.

Jakob Bergmeister GERMANY PHM Racing

Although he is yet to make his car racing debut, Bergmeister has an advantage in that he has been conducting some of his F4 testing in Europe on tyres from F4 UAE’s new supplier Giti while most ran on Pirellis. It was a trick only PHM Racing was doing at first, before other F4 teams picked it up in the final post-season group test of 2022 at Barcelona.

Bergmeister is from a family with strong racing pedigree, as he has 1978 European Touring Car Championship runner-up Willi as a grandfather, two-time Le Mans 24 Hours class winner and multiple-time GT2/GTE endurance racing champion Jorg as an uncle and 2008 ADAC GT Masters champion Tim is his father.

The third-generartion Bergmeister switches to F4 from shifter karting, where he won the German Cup in 2021 and did one round of the national championship in 2022 to come 20th in the standings. In Italy, he was 14th and 15th respectively in the WSK’s Champions and Open cups, then was 34th in the WSK Euro Series for KZ2 karts. In August he began his test programme with PHM in the F4 UAE car.

Federico Rifai UAE Xcel Motorsport

Last year Rifai won the Emirati title for X30 Junior karts, and made his car racing debut in the F4 UAE Trophy with Xcel.

He immediately impressed, setting the pace in Friday free practice by four tenths of a second and then qualifying second, being bettered only by dominant British F4 champion Alex Dunne.

Although Rifai faded to sixth place in race one, he then finished fourth in race two and was less than five seconds behind the race winner. It was a strong start that has marked him out as a dark horse for the season ahead.

F4 UAE entry list

Team No Driver 2022
Prema #No Niko Lacorte 28th in Italian F4
Ugo Ugochukwu 3rd in British F4
Bianca Bustamante 15th in W Series
PHM Racing Jakob Bergmeister Shifter karting
Akshay Bohra 31st in Ginetta Junior
Valentin Kluss 11th in ADAC F4
Noah Stromsted NC in Spanish F4
Hitech GP Kanato Le 7th in Ginetta Junior
Arvid Lindblad 17th in Italian F4
Will Macintyre 2nd in Ginetta Junior
James Piszyck 2nd in Australian FFord
MP Motorsport Jeronimo Berrio 6th in French F4
Emely de Heus 17th in W Series
Valerio Rinicella 6th in Spanish F4
Kirill Smal 4th in Spanish F4
Xcel Motorsport Alexander Bolduev Karting
Fernando Barrichello 7th in Brazilian F4
Noah Lisle 13th in British F4
Federico Rifai Junior karting
George Zhuravskiy FAbarth testing
R-ace GP Alexander Abkhazava Senior karting
Jesse Carrasquedo Jr 9th in NACAM F4
Zachary David 15th in ADAC F4
Raphael Narac 4th in TTE FR2.0 Cup
Cram-Hitech GP Sebastian Murray Senior karting
Flavio Olivieri Shifter karting
Pinnacle VAR Brando Badoer 16th in Italian F4
Jack Beeton Junior karting
Kai Daryanani Senior karting
Hiyu Yamakoshi Senior karting
Mumbai Falcons Muhammad Ibrahim No racing
Tuukka Taponen 6th in FAcademy Finland
James Wharton 5th in ADAC, Italian & UAE F4
R2Race Victoria Blokhina 33rd in Italian F4
Lena Buhler 29th in FRAC
Yas Heat Academy Keanu Al Azhari Senior & shifter karting
Hamda Al Qubaisi 28th in FRAC
Matteo Quintarelli Junior karting
Sainteloc Racing Theodor Jensen 7th in Danish F4
Luciano Morano 24th in French F4
Theophile Nael 19th in Spanish F4