Sharp ends 2022 with F4 UAE Trophy Race sweep: ‘It couldn’t have gone much better’

The F4 UAE Championship’s Trophy Race was the perfect way for drivers to find their rhythm before the season proper begins in early 2023. There was one racer who had already gotten into a groove, taking a double race victory despite fierce competition at the front. F1 Feeder Series sat down with Louis Sharp to get his side of the story from Yas Marina.

By George Brabner

There were no points on offer during the Trophy Race weekend, but that didn’t stop Carlin’s Sharp. The New Zealander emerged as a clear podium contender from practice on Friday morning, going on to earn two pieces of silverware during the weekend.

“Overall, it was a really good weekend, I think, for the team, but also for my confidence. It’s definitely going to be something good we can take into next year.”

Whilst the wins stand out, it was racing alongside Formula 1 that gave Sharp a memory he’ll cherish.

“It couldn’t have gone much better. They were two very enjoyable races. I think for me, the coolest thing, though, was after the Race 1 and Race 2 win, getting up on the F1 podium and hearing the New Zealand national anthem,” he said. “That was definitely another experience that I’m never going to forget.”

Finding extra tenths for victory

Sharp was by no means off the pace at any point during the Trophy Race weekend, but he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be in practice and qualifying, finishing the two sessions in third place and a few tenths from P1.

It was clear, though, that the Kiwi and his Carlin team found something overnight. An upturn in pace saw him streak clear of reigning British F4 champion Alex Dunne, eke out a five-second lead and set the fastest lap by 0.4 seconds to give him pole for Race 2.

As it turns out, a lot of that was down to set-up work behind the scenes. Between never racing at the Yas Marina Circuit before and running on the Giti tyres used in F4 UAE instead of the Pirelli compounds of British F4, Sharp was left searching for more on Friday night.

“We developed the set-up a lot because we weren’t particularly happy with it after the practice and after the qualifying session, so we were probably a little bit behind where we should have been,” he recounted.

“Once we got on top of that and nailed that for Saturday, I think we were where we should have been the whole time. It was a really good effort from the boys and girls at Carlin. They did a really good job getting the car good for Saturday.”

Racing on a bigger stage

Something that set the F4 UAE Trophy Race apart from other Formula 4 races around the world was racing alongside Formula 1. In this scenario, a young driver like Sharp is exposed to even more pairs of eyes than usual and gets to be a part of the same paddock as Formula 2. “It’s a really cool place to be,” Sharp said.

Just like his competitors, Sharp is used to pressure, and the aura of an F1 weekend is something he only wants more of. “Just being a part of that show and I guess the environment, it’s definitely something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, and it’s definitely somewhere I want to be in the future.”

A driver in a white and black racing suit faces the camera while wearing his crash helmet and holds both fists in the air while standing on his racecar, in front of which the logo of the F4 United Arab Emirates Championship is visible. Scrutineers and marshals in white shirts and orange vests lurk in the background. To the left, a driver with a blue crash helmet and a white and red racing suit lifts his right foot in the air upon exiting his silver racecar to his right.
Louis Sharp celebrates after winning the first of the two F4 UAE Trophy Race events | Credit: F4 UAE

On the track, he and Dunne put on a show for the thousands in attendance for the F1 season finale.

“We had a bit of a battle [in Race 1], but I was able to do a bit of a switchback on him into T9 and get into the lead. Then he tried to fight back, I believe into T12, but I was able to hold him off,” Sharp explained. “After that point, I think our pace was just really, really strong.”

By the time Race 2 came around, the two appeared closer to one another – so close, in fact, that they made contact on the first lap.

“I think he ended up breaking his front wing, but I was able to come away pretty unscathed. Not really too sure what happened, I think he might have just [outbraked] himself and crashed into me, but no hard feeling there. It wasn’t on purpose or anything,” Sharp said.

“It was a good battle up until that point, and it was tough because obviously I was starting P1 for Race 2 and I went off the track into T1. I believe I had to give the place back and let him take the place into Turn 5, so then after that, we were battling hard.”

A full F4 UAE campaign?

What’s to come for Sharp is another year in Formula 4. His age – he turns 16 on 11 May – would still restrict him from completing a full season in a championship further up the feeder series ladder. Instead, his focus is on to securing the British F4 crown in his recently announced second season with Carlin, with personal sponsorship from New Zealand race car manufacturer Rodin Cars.

A boy in a black and white racing suit stands on a podium and holds a trophy, with his left hand on the base and his right hand touching the metal part. The logos of ROKiT, Pirelli, and Wera appear in the background.
Louis Sharp contested his maiden single-seater campaign in 2022 in British F4 | Credit: British F4

Despite winning the F4 UAE Trophy Race, he isn’t set on a 2023 seat in F4 UAE. “We haven’t really talked about it yet,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to explore. I think we just need to properly sit down with Carlin and Rodin.”

Ultimately, F4 UAE’s position in the year means drivers looking ahead to the likes of Italian F4 and Spanish F4 use it to gain more experience, as happened last year with 2022 F4 UAE race winner Andrea Kimi Antonelli. But Sharp doesn’t think that’s necessarily what will be most useful for him.

“I don’t see too much need for me to do it just because I’ve got a year of experience under my belt now. Saying that, though, I’d love to do it.”

A positive end to an up-and-down 2022

This year has been Sharp’s first in single-seaters. He embarked on a British F4 campaign with Carlin, competing in every round but the first because he had not yet turned 15. Over the course of the 2022 season, he picked up two wins and a further 10 podiums in the series before making the trip over to the UAE, where he picked up another two victories. It all sounds like smooth sailing, but in reality, that hasn’t quite been the case.

“We were very on the back foot this year, especially starting off only having two test days in the car before the [British F4] season started, whereas everyone was doing a full winter of testing, and also missing the first round because I was too young, so it was tough,” Sharp told F1 Feeder Series.

Mileage is everything for the 15-year-old, and as 2022 has continued, he’s shown a clear upwards trajectory, with the F4 UAE victories a silver lining on the season.

“We were always playing a bit of catch-up during the season, but I think towards the end, we were able to start having some good momentum and start getting some good results, and I think that just really carried through into the UAE.”

Header photo credit: British F4

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