F4 UAE will return this winter with a fast-paced calendar boasting 15 races over a short five-week period. With 13 teams and over 30 drivers contesting the full season, here’s your guide to the upcoming championship.
By George Brabner
F4 UAE is the Middle East’s FIA–certified Formula 4 series which feeds directly into the Formula Regional Middle Eastern Championship. It acts as the perfect pathway for local talent, who have a strong representation on this year’s entry list, as well as drivers further flung who are looking to prepare themselves for a European season in the summer months.
The series has experienced steady growth in the past couple of years, as the prospect of a season in the UAE becomes ever more attractive. The grid is made up of both rookies and experienced drivers alike, and with greater competition than ever before, 2023 is set to be one of F4 UAE’s most entertaining seasons to date.
The calendar and format
The 2023 F4 UAE season will kick off at Dubai Autodrome, before returning to the circuit again for Round 4. The season concludes at long-time F1 season finale host Yas Marina, which held November’s non-championship Trophy Race.
Both of these circuits will host one less round than in 2022 due to the introduction of Kuwait Motor Town to the calendar for a double-header. This will be the first time the series has left the United Arab Emirates. Here’s how the full calendar looks:
Round 1: Dubai Autodrome (13–14 January)
Round 2: Kuwait Motor Town (27–28 January)
Round 3: Kuwait Motor Town (31 January–1 February)
Round 4: Dubai Autodrome (11–12 February)
Round 5: Yas Marina Circuit (18–19 February)
Since the calendar is one round shorter than the 2022 season, each round will now be composed of three races rather than four, while also having a 30-minute practice and two separate 15-minute qualifying sessions.
Qualifying 1 will set the grid for Race 1, whilst Qualifying 2 will set the grid for Race 3 – the grid for Race 2 will then be set by drivers’ fastest lap times set during Race 1.
Due to the FIA certification held by F4 UAE since its inauguration in 2016, 25 points will be awarded for a win down to one point for tenth place.
In 2022, the second-generation Formula 4 car was introduced to FIA–certified categories around the world. The Tatuus F4-T421’s competitive debut came in the UAE last January, albeit later than expected because of freight delays.
A definite success, the golden pair that is the Tatuus chassis and the 1.4-litre turbocharged Abarth engine went on to be widely used throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
Unsurprisingly, 2023 will see F4 UAE stick with the same chassis as last year. However, a notable adjustment comes in the form of tyres, as the series takes on a new supplier – Giti Tire – and moves away from the Hankook compound used last year.
The Giti tyre is currently only used in the Formula Regional Middle Eastern Championship and no other Formula 4 category, giving F4 UAE its own unique challenge to which drivers must adapt.
PHM Racing, who were third in the F4 UAE teams’ championship last year, used the Giti compound in the Italian F4 post-season test at Vallelunga in order to help their drivers extract more from their cars once the UAE season begins.
The teams and drivers
Prema Racing return to the UAE as reigning series champions following a hugely successful 2022 campaign that saw them take both the teams’ championship and the drivers’ championship with Charlie Wurz. They will be entering three cars for the full season.
British F4’s 2022 rookie champion and McLaren Junior Programme member Ugo Ugochukwu (#39) will spearhead the Italian outfit’s campaign, as he begins what will be his second year in Formula 4 cars. The American secured two victories and a further nine podiums across a full British F4 campaign in 2022, as well as four podiums in six races during his sporadic Italian F4 appearances with Prema.
Completing the team’s two-car lineup will be Nicola Lacorte (#47). The young Italian won the 2022 Supercorso Federale ACI Sport – a programme run by Italy’s motorsport federation to highlight racing talent – before competing in the final three Italian F4 rounds of 2022 in conjunction with Iron Lynx and Cetillar. Lacorte scored points in his maiden F4 race, putting him in good stead for a strong start to his first full year of racing at the Formula 4 level.
Completing their lineup is Bianca Bustamante (#19), who was announced as a late addition to the Italian outfit’s roster prior to pre-season testing in Dubai. The 17-year-old driver from the Philippines made her full-time single-seater debut in W Series last season, scoring points on her maiden appearance at Miami after opening her year with a campaign in USF Juniors.
Mumbai Falcons Racing
This season, Mumbai Falcons will move away from the support of local team Xcel Motorsport and instead towards Prema Racing, who will provide both technical and operational support to the Indian-based outfit following a partnership that started in FRAC in 2022.
As a result of this deal, Mumbai Falcons will house two of Prema’s 2023 Italian F4 drivers. Australian driver James Wharton (#13) will lead the team this season after a fifth-place finish in F4 UAE last season with four victories and one podium.
He’ll be joined at Mumbai Falcons by Prema stablemate Tuukka Taponen (#8), who makes his first competitive Formula 4 appearance outside of Finland. Taponen was announced as the winner of the Ferrari Driver Academy Scouting World Finals in November 2022, joining the FDA as a result, and went on to top the Italian F4 post-season test at Vallelunga later that month.
Completing Mumbai Falcons’ three-car line-up is Muhammad Ibrahim (#10). The Indian driver last competed in Formula 4 in 2019, scoring 40 points across eight appearances with Meritus GP. He dropped out from real-life racing because of funding issues, going on to pursue e-sports events with Mumbai Falcons.
Leading PHM Racing’s expanded four-car 2023 effort will be Valentin Kluss (#9). Kluss has already spent a year with the German team in the now-defunct ADAC F4 series, in which he picked up one podium. He also competed with Jenzer Motorsport in Italian F4, with only one points finish to his name. He’ll be looking to make more of an impact in 2023.
Meanwhile, Noah Strømsted (#75) will be making his maiden full-time F4 appearance, coming off the back of an impressive two-round appearance in Spanish F4 with Campos Racing in 2022. He consistently finished in the top ten despite little experience.
PHM’s third driver will be Akshay Bohra (#31), the younger brother of F4 stalwart and FRMEC racer Nikhil Bohra. He made his maiden F4 appearance in the 2022 Italian F4 season finale with US Racing, picking up a pair of 13th-place finishes.
Finishing PHM Racing’s roster will be Jakob Bergmeister (#26), who will be making his F4 debut. The German karting champion comes from a family steeped in racing history, and 2023 will see him making his first step onto the feeder series ladder.
Reigning FIA Formula 2 champions MP Motorsport embark on a Formula 4 campaign in the UAE this year with a rotational driver line-up. They will field three cars, with the drivers at least partially changing per round – a system simply allowing a greater number of drivers to gain experience with the team.
Kicking off their Round 1 line-up will be Valerio Rinicella (#61), who re-joins the Dutch outfit after a successful 2022 campaign with the team in Spanish F4. He picked up two podiums across the season, finishing sixth in the final standings, only one point away from the top five. He opened his 2022 season with the squad in the final three rounds of F4 UAE, and despite not picking up a single point, he will return to the region as a far more experienced Formula 4 driver.
Kirill Smal (#62) will also make an appearance at the team for Round 1, despite a move to FRMEC for the final three rounds with Mumbai Falcons. Smal finished third in both the F4 UAE and Italian F4 championships in 2021, before moving to Spanish F4 with MP Motorsport a year later, finishing the season fourth with eight podiums.
The call-up to the Dutch outfit for Smal came with short notice, as he scoops up the seat of the originally-confirmed Jeronimo Berrio. Nevertheless, Smal will no doubt be a reliable driver with so two seasons of Formula 4 experience under his belt.
Emely De Heus (#60) will also be part of their Round 1 line-up. Born in the Netherlands, she returns to the Dutch team after spending 2021 with them in Spanish F4. Despite leaving her full-time Spanish campaign without a point, she did pick up one point in W Series with Sirin Racing in Miami in 2022.
Hitech GP made their Formula 4 debut in F4 UAE this time last year, finishing fourth even though only one of their drivers completed the entire season. For 2023, Hitech enters four drivers, all of whom are making their full-time F4 debuts.
Red Bull Junior Team member Arvid Lindblad (#7), touted for race victories and podium finishes, will likely lead the team throughout the 2023 season. He’ll be moving to Prema Racing following his campaign in the UAE, but the experience he gains will no doubt aid his European season.
Hitech has also scooped up the top two Ginetta Junior Championship rookies for the 2023 F4 UAE season. William Macintyre (#5) took six victories in what was his first year out of karts before making an impressive F4 debut with Elite Motorsport in the final round of the GB4 season, leaving with a pair of second place finishes.
Japanese-born Kanato Le (#6) is likely to be closely matched with Macintyre as he carries over the momentum of an encouraging first outing with Hitech back in November’s F4 UAE Trophy Race, in which he picked up a second-place finish in only his second-ever Formula 4 race.
Rounding out their line-up will be 2022 Australian Formula Ford runner-up James Pisczyk (#4), who moves from Australia to climb the European feeder series ladder. He was closely matched with both Le and Macintyre in the F4 UAE Trophy Race and post-season British F4 testing, completing what is a strong squad for Hitech. Macintyre, Le and Pisczyk will also race for Hitech in the 2023 British F4 season.
Cram Hitech GP
Cram Motorsport will compete under the Cram Hitech GP banner this year, as the Italian outfit continues its partnership with Hitech GP – a deal first struck for the 2022 F4 UAE season.
The team have signed Scottish-born, UAE–situated driver Sebastian Murray (#72), who completed his first outing in Formula 4 machinery with Xcel Motorsport in the Trophy Race, picking up eighth- and ninth-place finishes. The upcoming season will be his first full-time F4 appearance, as he graduates from the Emirati karting scene.
Murray will be joined by fellow F4 rookie Flavio Olivieri (#73), who be making his outright F4 debut after being a part of Cram Motorsport’s testing programmes throughout 2022. This should put him in a similar position to Murray despite his competitive deficit.
French GT team Saintéloc Racing made the move to Formula 4 cars in 2022, appearing in the final four rounds of the Spanish F4 Championship. They will contest their first full-time campaign in 2023.
The team will retain two of their drivers from Spanish F4: Théophile Naël (#44) and Theodor Jensen (#30). Naël enjoyed success in karting and made his F4 debut in parallel with Saintéloc Racing at Spa-Francorchamps last year.
He had the upper hand during the pair’s short-lived Spanish appearances, taking the team’s best finish of eighth place. Meanwhile, Jensen scored a best finish of 14th but enjoyed greater success in Danish F4, in which he claimed one victory and a further two podiums with Team Formula Sport.
Rounding out the team is Luciano Morano (#18), who competed in five French F4 rounds in 2022. He finished 24th from 24 cars, with a best result of 13th at Magny-Cours.
Founded in 2019, R2Race are one of three Emirates-based teams competing in F4 UAE this season, which will mark their first campaign in Formula 4 cars. Despite the team’s inexperience, team manager and co-founder Alessandro Tonoli told Feeder Series that their staff boast “huge experience” at this level of competition, which they hope will bolster their results.
They have opted for an all-female driver line-up, fielding Swiss racer Léna Bühler (#15), who steps back down from the Formula Regional–level cars in which she made part-time appearances with R-ace GP in FRECA and FRAC last year.
Meanwhile, Victoria Blokhina (#78) will enter the squad in conjunction with PHM Racing because of R2Race’s position as a partner team to the German outfit. Blokhina competed in F4 UAE and Spanish F4 in 2022, picking up best finishes of 19th and 27th respectively.
Carlin Racing come to the UAE with two cars in 2023, racing as part of Xcel Motorsport with whom they worked closely at the F4 UAE Trophy Race.
Dion Gowda (#55) will be filling one of the British team’s seats. Born in India but living in London, Gowda will also be contesting the full 2023 British F4 season with Carlin after making his Formula 4 debut in the UAE. Gowda started his 2022 in karting, but he went on to spend much of the year completing tests with various teams both in the UK and abroad in preparation for his maiden F4 outing.
Carlin’s second driver will be Fernando Barrichello (#41) – son of Formula One race-winner Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello was announced to be racing with Xcel Motorsport prior to pre-season testing, but has been entered under Carlin Racing due to the size of Xcel’s team, since F4 UAE mandates that no outfit can enter more than four cars.
He competed in Brazilian F4 in 2022, picking up two race victories and a further three podiums on his way to fourth place in the Driver’s Championship. Now, just like Brazilian F4 champion Pedro Clerot, a move away from his home country is on the cards in the hunt for greater experience and competition.
Leading local powerhouse Xcel Motorsport’s F4 UAE squad will include Federico Rifai (#71), one of the most promising Emirati karters and a member of the team since 2019. He had an impressive F4 debut in the Trophy Race, in which he qualified second before fighting back from a stall to sixth place.
Joining Rifai will be Australian Noah Lisle (#2), who’s entering his second season in Formula 4 cars. His 2022 campaign saw him take a podium finish in British F4, whilst his partial outing in Spanish F4 with Drivex saw him produce a best finish of 13th from three rounds.
Completing their roster will be Alexander Bolduev (#54) and George Zhuravskiy (#33), who are both members of ex–Formula One driver Sergey Sirotkin’s S35 Academy. Bolduev is due to make his Formula 4 debut with the team before shifting to Spanish F4 with Drivex, with whom he will continue his rookie F4 campaign.
Zhuravskiy, meanwhile, had his first taste of Formula 4 machinery in Russia with SMP Racing, but he will be racing on an international stage for the first time in F4 UAE. The season will be equally as important for him before he tackles Spanish F4 with Drivex just like Bolduev.
Yas Heat Academy
Yas Heat Academy are one of two teams on the 2023 F4 UAE grid that will be making their competitive Formula 4 debuts. Owned by the Yas Marina Circuit, the team aims to develop and further Emirati racing talent, fielding three local drivers.
Multi-time UAE Karting Championship victor Keanu Al Azhari (#17) will lead Yas Heat Racing Academy’s maiden Formula 4 attack. The pair of podiums he collected on his debut F4 weekend in the Trophy Race may not have been expected, but they provide him with an excellent confidence boost ahead of his first season racing F4 cars. He also won the 2022 Richard Mille Young Talent Academy, securing him a drive with MP Motorsport later this year in Spanish F4.
Yas Heat Racing Academy’s second driver will be Matteo Quintarelli (#93), the IAME UAE Junior runner-up, who was selected by Yas Heat Racing Academy to join their squad following a shootout at the Yas Marina Circuit. He comes off the back of ninth- and 11th-place finishes in the Trophy Race, in which he couldn’t quite match Al Azhari, but an intense testing programme should allow them to start the season at a similar level.
Finishing Yas Heat’s lineup will be Hamda Al Qubaisi (#93). She left 2022 without points after campaigns in FRECA and FRAC with Prema Racing and Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema respectively. However, a return to F4 UAE, in which she scored three victories in 2021, sees her aiming to make amends for what was a difficult season.
Maltese driver Zachary David (#20) will join R-ace GP for the 2023 F4 UAE season for his first full-time Formula 4 campaign following his first Formula 4 outings with US Racing at the Red Bull Ring and Monza in Italian F4 in 2022. He claimed a best finish of seventh in those races and also made a one-round appearance in ADAC F4 at the Lausitzring, where he finished within the top eight in all three races.
Alongside David will be Jesse Carrasquedo (#3), who had a tough 2022 that was shortened by health issues. He is looking to bounce back in 2023, starting with F4 UAE. His Formula 4 debut came in the 2021 Danish F4 season, where he took two victories, before he made single-round appearances in both NACAM and Spanish F4 – the former far more successful as he left the weekend with two wins and one podium, ending eventual champion Pipe Pedraza’s four-race-long victory streak.
Completing R-ace GP’s line-up will be full-time debutants Raphaël Narac (#96) and Alexander Abkhazava (#12). Narac completed his first outing in single-seaters late last year, in both the Formula Renault Cup class as part of the French Trophée Tourisme Endurance and later in Italian F4 at Monza with R-ace GP. Abkhazava, on the other hand, is yet to race single-seaters, progressing straight from karting to F4 UAE.
2023 will mark Van Amersfoort Racing’s first year racing in the UAE, and they are teaming up with the Irish-based Pinnacle Motorsport squad for both F4 UAE and FRMEC. F4 UAE will see the team enter three cars – two of which will be occupied full-time, with the third shared between two debuting drivers.
Their two full-time drivers will be Aussie Jack Beeton (#95) and Indian Kai Daryanani (#88). Beeton won the 2022 Ferrari Driver Academy Asia Pacific and Oceania selection programme before becoming one of six drivers who were part of the FDA Scouting World Final. He missed out on the academy position, which was ultimately won by Taponen, but went on to test with Van Amersfoort and Cram Motorsport in Europe.
Meanwhile, Daryanani comes straight from the Indian karting scene. He was busy testing in the UK with both Hitech GP and Virtuosi Racing in 2022 before shifting to Spain later in the year to test with Van Amersfoort at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Their third seat will be shared between Italian Brando Badoer (#94), son of ex-Formula One driver Luca Badoer, and Hiyu Yamakoshi (#94). Badoer will be competing in Rounds 1, 4 and 5, while Yamakoshi will take part in Rounds 2 and 3.
Badoer made his full-time debut with AKM Motorsport in F4 UAE last year, going on to compete with Van Amersfoort Racing in both Italy and Germany. On the other hand, Yamakoshi spent 2022 in karts, getting his first taste of Formula 4 cars with Campos Racing at a test in Catalunya late in the year.
How to keep up with the action
The 2023 F4 UAE season will have all of its races live-streamed via the series’ YouTube channel, with Jake Sanson, renowned feeder series and motorsport commentator, taking the mic for all five rounds.
Neither qualifying nor practice sessions will be broadcasted, however – live timing will instead be provided by the series and will continue to run alongside the races.
Header image credit: F4 UAE
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