The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the beginning of a full-scale war have resulted in countless military and civilian casualties within Ukraine. The conflict has also had wide-ranging impacts beyond Ukraine’s borders, as the sanctions imposed on Russia have threatened the professional careers of many of the country’s sportspeople. One athlete facing difficulties is Formula 4 driver Nikita Bedrin, who, despite scoring good results last season, has found himself in a tricky situation for 2022.
By Alexander Studenkov
Born in Belgorod, Russia, in 2006, Bedrin got his first karting experience as a young child when his father took him to their local track. Bedrin quickly showed his talent by winning a number of races in his region before he moved up to competing in national series. After winning the Russian Karting Championship in 2015, he decided to branch out to Europe to progress in his career.
“The level in Russia is obviously lower, but some drivers can be good enough to win in Europe,” Bedrin tells F1 Feeder Series. “I won the Russian Championship two or three times – I don’t even know – and as soon as I turned 10, I moved to race in Mini Kart. Because I had to travel so much, we decided to move to Italy.
“I like it because I find Italy a bit more beautiful than Russia. The people are nice. And I am going to an Italian school.”
Higher levels of competition
Bedrin quickly acclimatised to the competitiveness of the European karting scene, winning the WSK Final Cup in 2017 and taking third in the WSK Euro Series’ OKJ class two years later. In 2020, his final year of karting, Bedrin ended up fourth in the OK class of both the WSK Euro Series and the FIA European Championship and won the WSK Super Master Series against current Formula 4 rivals Andrea Kimi Antonelli, Taylor Barnard and Rafael Câmara.
Speaking about racing in Europe, Bedrin says, “The level is high, but I think I’ve always been fast there, especially in my last year in OK Senior, [when] I won the WSK [Super Master Series].
“When I was in OK Junior, I was still making a lot more mistakes myself, but I think I really grew up mentally when I turned 14. Mentally, I stopped being a kid, and I understood how serious everything is. It helped me in the championship, but the competition is high. It’s a world competition for karting.”
Moving into car racing in 2021, Bedrin contested the F4 UAE Championship during the winter to prepare for his European season with Van Amersfoort Racing. However, his campaign only lasted three rounds, and he only scored one podium in what ended up being a personal disappointment.
“It was my first races in formula, in single-seaters. I didn’t do much testing before that as well, plus I missed two rounds because I broke my finger in Round 3. But then in the European season, I improved quite a lot, especially in the end.”
Help from the champion
His seasons in the Italian F4 and ADAC F4 Championships yielded more impressive results. He won two races on the road in Germany in ADAC F4 and even inherited victory at Imola in Italian F4 after a disqualification for his championship-winning teammate Oliver Bearman. He was crowned the rookie champion in both series at the end of the year, albeit by just one point in Italian F4.
Having Bearman as a teammate proved to be beneficial to Bedrin, who credits the Briton’s driving as one of the factors that helped him develop throughout the season.
“I learned a lot [from Bearman]. He was very good [and] he was always fast, so most of the time, I was learning from his driving. But I think now I’m on a similar level to where he was because it’s my second year … as his was,” Bedrin says.
“I had many ups and downs last season. I had many crashes. Many of them were not my fault, but there is nothing you can do in racing situations like that. But I was still happy to win both rookie championships; it’s still something.
“When I finished the races, I was most of the time in the top 10. It was just many DNFs that cost me a better position in the championship. But we definitely improved a lot. I improved myself in driving a lot last season towards the end, which of course paid off as well. In the future it will help me.
“Now I’m driving a lot more cleanly, a lot more consistently. I wouldn’t say more on the limit, but definitely faster while still keeping it on the limit. I’m in a good shape at the moment.”
Now I’m driving a lot more cleanly, a lot more consistently. I wouldn’t say more on the limit, but definitely fasterNikita Bedrin (PHM Racing)
New season, new team
For this year, Bedrin has remained in all three series he entered in 2021, but he has switched loyalties to the new non-profit PHM Racing outfit. Though F4 UAE was the team’s first-ever appearance in a championship, they and Bedrin were able to impress, with two victories going the way of the 16-year-old. Fourth place for Bedrin in the drivers’ championship was a success that surprised a lot of onlookers, although to him, the result wasn’t a huge shock.
“It’s a new team, but I had good experience already and just drove as well as I knew. We also had a big advantage in racing because a bit less than half the grid were rookies, so I knew how to race better than them. I think having more control of what I’m doing and knowing how to overtake properly helped me quite a lot. I was gaining positions in basically every race, and they were good results for the team.”
Bedrin’s teammates in F4 UAE, former karting rival Barnard and Jonas Ried, have remained with PHM in both Italy and Germany, and Bedrin spoke enthusiastically about his bond with them.
“We are getting along very well. We are good friends outside the track, me, Taylor and Jonas. Of course, I can learn good things from them. Taylor is a very good driver as well and sometimes I can even learn from Jonas. I like the relationship that we have outside and inside the track.”
Adjusting to a new car
Unfortunately for Bedrin, his results thus far have been underwhelming for his high standards, with merely three podiums in the two series among a raft of top ten finishes. He offered F1 Feeder Series an insight into why the PHM team has had a relative lack of performance.
“It’s a new car this season, so it makes it a lot more complicated for [the team]. We probably started in a bit of a wrong direction, especially in ADAC F4 Round 1. We tried many different things, but nothing worked for us. But already in Imola, we made a big step and already got a podium there.
It’s a new car this season, so it makes it a lot more complicatedNikita Bedrin (PHM Racing)
“And since then, we were just improving, but everyone else was improving [as well]. We are getting close to US [Racing], to fight with them, but the goal is to get the most out of the car. I need not to make mistakes, and if we continue to improve like this, then maybe we can fight for podiums at the end of the season.
“In the racecraft, I think I’m very good at the moment. I’m always consistent and good with tyre management. If I can just improve in qualifying and get that one extra tenth out, I think we will get there.”
The effects of the Russo-Ukrainian War
The difficult first half of the season isn’t the only thing that has had a profound effect on Bedrin, however. At the end of February, Russian troops, on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, marched into Ukrainian territory, starting a war that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has led to more than 11,000 civilian casualties, with tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides of the conflict also losing their lives.
The subsequent sanctions on Russia and by extension on Russian athletes have affected Bedrin, who now cannot show his Russian sponsors on his car.
“It didn’t help my sponsors, of course, and it did some changes for me, but now it’s all good. The situation interrupted my sponsors, basically – that’s what I can say.
“They can’t be shown. It’s very strange. I don’t know what sponsors have to do with it, but they cannot be shown. Just because it’s a Russian sponsor, it can’t be shown on the car, but it is what it is. They don’t want to see Russia anywhere, especially in Europe. Many people don’t like Russia for what happened.
“If I do my job properly, then [the sponsors] will come themselves. I don’t think that my nationality matters so much at the moment because I have nothing to do with [the war].”
If I do my job properly, then [the sponsors] will come themselves. I don’t think that my nationality matters so much at the momentNikita Bedrin
The showing of the Russian flag has also been made illegal in events officially sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), which certifies ADAC and Italian F4. Even though many would have considered the FIA ban an insult to their national pride, Bedrin is not concerned with this decision.
“I cannot have it anywhere – not on the car, not on my suit. But I don’t really think about that when I drive. I’m racing with an Italian licence now, which I don’t mind [doing]. As long as I’m racing, I’m happy.”
Header photo credit: ACI Sport
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