After much anticipation the Italian F4 Championship got underway at the legendary Imola Circuit with a triple of exhilarating races. It had everything, from a wet qualifying session that mixed up the grid to the debut win of Kacper Sztuka, and thus here are our four takeaways from the opening round.
By Alexander Studenkov
Alex Dunne confirms title hopes
Coming into his second year in single-seaters after taking his first wins in the UAE and a one-off appearance in British F4, one in which he took two victories and a second place, US Racing’s Alex Dunne continued his run of stellar form at Imola.
Despite being denied pole position for Race 2 by a five-place grid drop curtesy of a yellow flag infraction, the Irishman fought his way to the lead in the opening laps, passing polesitter Ivan Domingues on lap four and controlling the race from then on, becoming his country’s first ever Italian F4 race winner.
A prior second place after a hard battle with PHM’s Nikita Bedrin in Race 1 and a stunning recovery from hitting a sausage kerb that sent Dunne’s car flying to third by the checkered flag in Race 3 put the man from Offaly into the lead of the championship, 11 points ahead of Saturday’s race winner Rafael Câmara.
Antonelli is not invincible
After a near clean-sweep at the ADAC F4 opener in Belgium many would have expected Antonelli to continue proving his status as the most highly-rated driver within the category. Initially this looked to be the case after the Prema driver took pole position in the first qualifying session and retained the lead at the start of Race 1.
Prema team-mates James Wharton (left) and Rafael Câmara collected trophies and dominated the rookies’ class, whereas Andrea Kimi Antonelli wasn’t able to score more than one single point | Credit: Prema
Things were too good to be true, as with five laps to go Antonelli’s car experienced a gearbox issue and subsequently forced the Bolognese driver to come to a halt on the pit straight. In Race 2 the misery piled onto the Italian, who touched a kerb aggressively whilst trying to move up from a lowly fourteenth grid slot in the opening laps, causing him to come into the pits for a front wing change.
Antonelli himself ruined any chance of salvaging his weekend in the third race, misjudging a move on his teammate James Wharton into Rivazza and sending the Australian into the gravel. The subsequent 10-second penalty demoted Antonelli to tenth after the race finished, and with just one point to show for his efforts the Italian needs to compose himself to get back into the championship battle.
US Racing can challenge Prema
One team was able to profit hugely from the struggles Antonelli faced: US Racing. Compared to Prema, the German team scored two more podiums throughout the weekend, with wins coming courtesy of Dunne and a first ever victory by Kacper Sztuka, the Pole coming back from having failed to score at all last season.
US were the only team able to consistently take the fight to Prema, as Marcus Amand and Dunne were able to dispatch the Italian team’s drivers in wheel-to-wheel combat during their fights through the pack and Sztuka defended superbly from a rapid Câmara in the nail-biting final laps of Race 3. As Prema faced inconsistency and even a collision between teammates on Sunday US Racing took a healthy haul of points and now sit at the top of the teams’ standings going into round 2 at Misano.
Weug finally scores points
The first ever woman to be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Maya Weug went into her rookie season last year with Iron Lynx with a lot of attention bearing her way. Following a campaign in which she missed out on scoring any points however Weug’s place in the FDA was being put into question going into 2022, and a disappointing guest appearance at Spa-Francorchamps in ADAC F4 did little to quell these concerns.
Imola turned out to be a breakthrough. Profiting from an opportunistic call for wet tyres in the second qualifying session, the Dutch driver lined up third in both of Sunday’s races. Having fought her way from sixteenth to tenth in Race 1, scoring her first point in the championship, Weug lost two positions at the start of the second race. She was left unfazed, taking back fourth from Clerot the following lap. After being overtaken by Wharton she closed up to her teammate Ivan Domingues, battling with him for three laps and coming out ahead by the end. Weug finished sixth, one position ahead of Domingues, thus claiming her best ever result in car racing.
Despite the third race ending in a final-lap collision with her teammate caused by Clerot, she ended the weekend sitting tenth in the championship. More will be expected from her this season, but Imola was a crucial step in the right direction for Weug.
Results Italian F4 Imola Round 1
1. Rafael Câmara
2. Alex Dunne
3. Nikita Bedrin
Results Italian F4 Imola Round 2
1. Alex Dunne
2. Kacper Sztuka
3. James Wharton
Results Italian F4 Imola Round 3
1. Kacper Sztuka
2. Rafael Câmara
3. Alex Dunne
Standings after three rounds
1. Alex Dunne, 58 pts
2. Rafael Câmara, 47 pts
3. Kacper Sztuka, 43 pts
Header photo credit: Italian F4
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