With the third round of the Italian F4 Championship completed, we now have a clear picture of the title battle and of the performance of each driver and team. In the Ardennes Forest, Prema once again prevailed, with Andrea Kimi Antonelli winning all three races. Here are F1 Feeder Series’ verdicts from the event.
By Alexander Studenkov
Another Antonelli masterclass
Once more it was Antonelli who was the pacesetter across Round 3 at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Having raced and won around this track earlier this year in the ADAC F4 season opener, the Mercedes prospect used his experience around the track to his advantage in qualifying, taking pole for Races 1 and 2 and starting from second in the final race.
On the opening lap of Saturday’s race, Antonelli fell down to fifth at Les Combes when trying to avoid the gravel in a battle with teammate James Wharton, but he proved his impeccable racing intelligence by overtaking both Wharton and Charlie Wurz in Turn 5 on Lap 3. He then used the slipstream to breeze past Rafael Câmara a couple of laps later, winning the race with a controlled margin in the end.
The other two races left little else to be desired for the Italian, as he took the spoils in both of them following a scrap with Câmara for first in Race 2 and a dominant showing in Race 3. Antonelli has now closed the gap to the championship leader down to three points, and barring any mishaps, he is on course to take over at the top of the standings soon.
Câmara stalls – and finishes third
When points leader Câmara stalled from pole at the beginning of Race 3 and fell back to the depths of 34th place, few, if anyone, could have imagined that he would end the race not only with the championship lead but with a trophy in hand.
But Câmara didn’t give up easily after stalling. Within the first 20 minutes of the race, he had already come back into the top ten, and using his knowledge of the track and the car, he picked off the regular points finishers one, sometimes two at a time before passing Wurz on the penultimate lap. He finished third, behind only the two other Premas, and set a fastest lap almost a second faster than that of title rival Antonelli.
This weekend showed that there are still fine points for the young Brazilian to improve upon, as the stall came after he had lost out on the podium in Race 2 to Alex Dunne and Nikita Bedrin. But Câmara has once again proven that his raw speed and confidence in his machinery are not to be ignored.
Laursen ends his drought
Once the Danish F4 champion in his début year of car racing, Conrad Laursen has had a tough time in the most competitive F4 series over the past 12 months. Despite racing for the incredibly competitive Prema Powerteam in that time, Laursen narrowly missed out on the rookie title to Bedrin last season. Until this round at Spa, he hadn’t taken a race finish better than fifth place.
That all changed this weekend, although it came unexpectedly. Having been the only Prema driver to miss out on the top five in Race 1 and having spun into the gravel in Race 2, Laursen had to look to the final race to rescue his weekend.
Starting fourth, Laursen inherited second after Câmara’s stall and an accident for Wharton. He never looked in danger of losing second place, setting consistent lap times to manage the gap to the cars behind, and eventually crossed the line to score his first ever podium in the series. Dropping his trophy during the podium celebrations made for an amusing moment as well as a fitting conclusion to Laursen’s weird weekend.
Other teams can’t compare to Prema
It is the reality of motorsport that drivers strongly depend on their equipment to be able to fight for victories, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the Italian F4 Championship this season.
Prema Powerteam have won seven of the nine races so far this year, with two wins for US Racing at Imola having come largely thanks to a rainy qualifying session and mixed-up grids. At Spa, there was no stopping Prema in qualifying as shown most acutely by Race 3, for which the five Premas locked out the top five on the grid. In the end, all drivers bar Wharton, who was forced to retire because of contact with Bedrin, finished in the first few positions.
Their success can be explained by their vast engineering know-how as well as the fact that taking part in the F4 UAE Championship helped them to learn the new Formula 4 chassis during the winter. As other teams have to play catch-up, Prema look unstoppable. Already holding a gap of 114 points over US Racing, the Italian squad can rest assured that they will more than likely walk away with the championship at season’s end.
Header photo credit: Alexander Studenkov
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