Three males stand in front of a blue and black racecar wearing blue, black and red Yas Heat–branded t-shirts. A man in a thoub and keffiyeh stands beside them.

Why ‘it’s all about talent’ for F4 UAE rookies Yas Heat Racing Academy in 2023

Before their first full season of racing, Yas Heat Racing Academy made their on-track debut with young Emirati talents Keanu Al Azhari and Matteo Quintarelli at F4 UAE’s non-championship Trophy Race weekend, with Al Azhari taking a podium in each race. Feeder Series sat down with Yas Heat Racing Academy team manager Matthew Norman to discuss what’s to come in 2023 for the young team.

By George Brabner

November’s F4 UAE Trophy Race at the Yas Marina Circuit was all about experience. With more than half of the grid made up of drivers brand new to Formula 4 and no points on offer, this one-off was simply to give everyone some extra mileage in a race environment – perfect for a young team whose main focus is on developing and nurturing their pairing of Al Azhari and Quintarelli, both 15.

“Because it’s the first race, it’s non-championship, so it wasn’t high expectations. It was more to gel with the team and to gel with the drivers and give them the right environment and the right experience,” Norman told Feeder Series.

Their results – two third places for Al Azhari and ninth and 11th for Quintarelli – were a crucial starting point, and Norman was positive about how the team did at this early stage in their development.

We didn’t expect to have two podiums, but obviously, we’ll take those

Matthew Norman

“We fared very well against some stiff competition. On the whole, I’m very happy with the programme,” he said. “We didn’t expect to have two podiums, but obviously, we’ll take those for sure. We won’t throw those away!”

Capitalising on track time

Before the F4 UAE Trophy Race, the team, including Al Azhari and Quintarelli, got in their fair share of laps around the Yas Marina Circuit in a shoot-out to choose which drivers would ultimately make it onto the team’s roster. “We did 120 laps on the Grand Prix circuit, so that was more than a few race distances covered,” Norman explained.

With a private test before that too, the laps really have racked up – a luxury not every team has. This opportunity was due to Yas Heat’s position as part of the Yas Marina Circuit entity itself. The team was originally formed by the owners of the track with the aims of securing a future in motorsport for local talent and developing young Emirati drivers.

A blue, black and red car driven by a driver with a red crash helmet
Matteo Quintarelli | Credit: F4 UAE

Norman stressed that whilst all of those laps count for a lot, being on track is where knowledge is really gained.

“Everybody had some good track time, but obviously, it’s when we get into the heat of battle, that’s when you understand what we need to look at for the future. The grid is going to be a lot bigger coming into the new year, so operationally … you need to be really, really slick with your timings, with your calls and with your strategy.”

When we get into the heat of battle, that’s when you understand what we need to look at for the future

Matthew Norman

For Yas Heat, the preparation time offered by the Trophy Race was particularly important so they could ensure that all operations ran smoothly.

“It’s obviously very good for all the team personnel to make sure they put the cars together correctly, they’ve done the right procedures, the data engineers are working with the drivers and there’s good communication going on,” Norman said. “It’s a very busy weekend when you’ve got Formula 1 and Formula 2 there.”

No time to rest

Yas Heat are rookies in development themselves, with two young drivers sharing the same goal as them: to make an impact in 2023 and beyond.

But hard work is in order. The drivers are going through intense days of testing, fitness and simulator sessions, all tools that they are exploiting to ready themselves for the coming season, which features rounds at Dubai Autodrome, Yas Marina Circuit and Kuwait Motor Town.

“The drivers have got a fitness regime they’re currently going through. They’ve also got a full simulator programme, so we have a simulator which will replicate the Dubai Autodrome [hosting Rounds 1 and 4 of F4 UAE]. We put the drivers through a continuous sim exercise,” Norman told Feeder Series.

“At the same time, all the cars have already been rebuilt to be prepared now for another test which is happening in December, just before Christmas. … There’s no ‘get out of the car and I’ll see you in January’. It’s a full programme for these guys!”

Expanding to other F4 series

F4 UAE is distinct because it commences in the middle of January and ends just over a month later. Many drivers in the series make the trip over from Europe, where track availability is lowered by winter weather, so those starting F4 in the UAE get a taste of what’s to come in the warmer months.

“All those drivers can put in a lot of testing and driving before they then go back to Europe, so you get a mix of new drivers who are experiencing it for the first time or experienced drivers going into their second season of F4 to get themselves sharp because a lot of the time, it’s the same drivers they’ll be racing against in the UAE as when they go to Europe,” Norman said. “It’s the same people, and they all do the same championships as well.”

A grey car prepares to make a left turn as a blue and black car lunges down the inside of a black and lime car angled slightly to the left
Race 1 of the F4 UAE Trophy Race weekend | Credit: F4 UAE

Once the F4 UAE season is complete, Yas Heat will be moving to Europe along with their drivers. Norman envisions that they will be “running multiple programmes at the same time” during the main season.

“We’re going to run cars with the two current drivers. The third driver we have is an Emirati driver who’s also come from the Karting World Championship. He was too young to compete for this trophy race and the [F4 UAE] Championship, so we’re giving him additional testing time before we start a German and Italian F4 European programme for the summer,” Norman said.

News has emerged since this interview that Germany’s ADAC F4 Championship will not be going ahead in 2023. According to Norman, Yas Heat is now undergoing discussions as to whether a Spanish F4 campaign will take its place instead. By winning October’s Richard Mille Young Talent Academy shootout, Al Azhari independently earned a fully funded seat in Spanish F4 with MP Motorsport.

“He’ll still be connected with us as a Yas Heat Academy driver, and obviously we want to support him as far as we can. He did extremely well to win their shootout, and he’ll be doing the full F4 Spanish Championship. We’ll see what happens regarding particular budgets. Maybe [we’ll] have another driver from the academy there to be another car for the Spanish one.”

Moving beyond F4

Twelve months ago, German outfit PHM Racing made their debut in the series before leaving the winter competition with three wins and third place in the teams’ championship. They eventually took another third place in Italian F4 and second place in ADAC F4 during the main 2022 racing season. In 2023, they will appear on the F2 and F3 grids via a partnership with Charouz Racing System.

Norman believes Yas Heat have the potential for a similar trajectory.

A driver in a yellow Giti cap and a blue and black racing suit with red accents shakes the hand of a gentleman in a white keffiyah and white thobe with his back to the camera
Keanu Al Azhari | Credit: F4 UAE

“If luck goes a bit our way – you never know how things are going to work out – but I think we can certainly hit the ground running, and hit it hard. I think the two drivers we have can produce some good results, and obviously, we want to showcase it as an academy for the UAE license holders – that this is the way forward,” Norman says.

“Obviously, results will benefit people looking at the academy coming from the karting championship, so I would like to say we’d like to emulate what they [PHM Racing] achieved last season.”

We want to showcase it as an academy for the UAE license holders – that this is the way forward

Matthew Norman

Norman has set a high bar for Yas Heat, who are eyeing the next steps on the ladder just months into their on-track journey.

“We have a very aggressive programme to push faster through the ranks, so we’re looking obviously at doing not just the F4 but then moving to F3, so there’s a programme in itself. Now we’ve got F3 regional [Formula Regional Middle East Championship], which has the same promoter as the F4 UAE Championship, so we already have an alliance with them. So it makes logical sense,” he says.

“Instead of keeping a driver too long in F4, we want to move them forward as quickly as you can up the ranks, and that’s obviously what the programme is all about,” Norman continues. “It’s to try and work on just talent. It’s all about talent.”

Header photo credit: Yas Heat Racing Academy

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