Cars navigate a slight right turn on the Yas Marina Circuit, with the characteristic teal and grey asphalt run-off traversed by three cars in the background

Your season guide to the 2023 Formula Regional Middle East Championship

The Formula Regional Middle East Championship (FRMEC) is the newly named winter series that stems from both F3 Asia and last year’s Formula Regional Asian Championship (FRAC). Being supported by the F4 UAE Championship, Feeder Series presents your guide to the premier Asian Formula Regional series.

By Tyler Foster

Due to the Middle East providing a successful testing ground for FRAC and F3 Asia in recent years, series organiser TopSpeed made the decision to refocus their wider Asian championship to a more achievable regional one.

This closer location to Europe has allowed a greater involvement and influence from the European market. Heavyweight junior teams such as Prema and Hitech remain central to the series, while drivers such as reigning Italian and ADAC F4 champion Andrea Kimi Antonelli provide a shining attraction for fans.

This championship offers a selection of premium opportunities to entering drivers; including Super Licence points for the top nine in the standings, an opportunity to gain mileage in a Formula Regional Tatuus F.3 T-318 prior to the summer season, and a chance to compete against a wide range of drivers from around the globe.

Calendar

As the new series’ name suggests, all five rounds of FRMEC will be hosted within the Middle East, more specifically between three circuits in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The pre-season testing has already finished, occurring on 9th-10th January at the Dubai Autodrome.

The first round sees the teams and drivers remain in Dubai for 13th-14th January. Then the series will see the debut of the Kuwait Motor Town with a back-to-back on 27th-28th January and 31st January-1st February. A return to the Dubai Autodrome for the fourth round on 11th-12th February is followed up by the final round at the Yas Marina Circuit on 18th-19th February.

Format

The series will utilise the same format previously used in FRAC, and now adopted by F4 UAE. This means that to the start of each round we will have a 30-minute practice period, followed by 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’ Race 1 results with the top ten reversed.

Jack Doohan on track in the F3 Asian Winter Championship driving a black and red car
FRMEC stems from the F3 Asia Championship | Credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

Therefore, each round will have two polesitters and three race winners. Despite Race 2 being a reverse-grid format for the top ten finishers from Race 1, all three races will award the same amount of points. FRMEC uses the same points-scoring system as that of F1, however no extra points are scored for pole or the fastest lap of any race.

Teams

There are eight teams in this season’s edition of FRMEC, the same number that FRAC saw last year. Prema return in full capacity after supporting both Abu Dhabi Racing and Mumbai Falcons in 2022.

Mumbai Falcons also return after winning the teams’ title last time out, while fellow Indian outfit Hyderabad Blackbirds join forces with Formula 2 Champions MP Motorsport. Hitech GP one again has an extensive driver line-up, as do French team R-ace GP.

F2 and F3 newcomers PHM Racing will make their debut in FRMEC, while Filipino-based Pinnacle Motorsport team up with Van Amersfoort. The smaller Chinese team R&B Racing enter the series for the first time.

Prema

The Italian giants of the junior motorsport world are looking to make their own mark on the series after supporting Mumbai Falcons to the title in last year’s FRAC. While they will continue to collaborate with their Indian colleagues, they have brought two drivers under the Prema banner to compete for all five rounds. They are the only team in FRMEC this year to have an all-rookie line-up.

This duo competed against each other in British F4 last year, and with Aiden Neate (#57) being the more experienced of the two, he will be expected to lead this compact line-up. Having spent two years progressing in British F4 with Phinsys by Argenti, Neate finished sixth in 2022 with a couple of victories. Interestingly, the 16-year-old already has experience racing in the Middle East, after an impressive F4 UAE campaign with Prema last year. A total of nine podiums saw him finish third.

He will be partnered with South Korean Michael Shin (#24), who also took part in last year’s F4 UAE championship with JHR Development. He failed to score any points and finished 31st. Shin faired much better in British F4 however, where he was able to achieve one victory and a further podium to finish eleventh in the standings with Virtuosi.

Hitech

Having been involved in F3 Asia since its inception in 2018, Hitech continued their successful venture with a solid second place in the 2022 edition of FRAC. A strong line-up with the likes of Isack Hadjar may be somehow improved still for this year. They will run four cars throughout the series, with two drivers running a full-campaign, and the other two switching out halfway through.

Someone who is rumoured to be partnering up with Hadjar at Hitech in F2 this year is fellow Red Bull Junior Jak Crawford (#52). The 17-year-old American took part in FRAC last year with Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema and had a mediocre campaign by his standards, finishing sixth but without a win. In the ultra-competitive environment of F3, Crawford achieved a maiden victory and a further four podiums in his second season in the series. After a year with Prema, Crawford is returning to Hitech for the first three rounds of FRMEC.

17-year-old Italian prospect Gabriele Mini (#53) was only meant to compete in FRAC for two rounds for Hitech last year, however he went on to complete four of the five rounds and finish in third with a couple of wins. This helped set him up for a strong FRECA campaign, where he lost out in the title fight to Dino Beganovic, ultimately settling for second. Three poles and as many victories helped Mini to graduate to Formula 3 with Hitech for 2023, who he will race with for the first three rounds of FRMEC.

Gabriele Mini driving through the pitlane in a FRAC Hitech car
Gabriele Mini will continue to race for Hitech after competing with them in FRAC last year | Credit: Formula Regional Asian Championship

Russian driver Daniel Mavlyutov (#54) will be the only one of Hitech’s line-up to make their debut in the Middle East. Having partially competed in Spanish F4 last year, Mavlyutov saw more action in British F4 with Hitech, where he finished 15th in a full rookie campaign. The Russian will race in FRMEC for all five rounds of the championship.

It was certainly a mixed 2022 for Sebastián Montoya (#55). Being the son of an F1 great always creates a weight of expectation, however the Colombian pleasantly surprised everyone in FRAC last year, taking three poles and convert two of them into wins in the first three rounds. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into FRECA, where the 17-year-old struggled with Prema and finished down in 13th. As a last-minute replacement for Hunter Yeany at Campos, he stepped up to F3 and shocked with two P8 finishes at Zandvoort. At the start of the new year, he was announced as part of the Red Bull Junior Team. With Hitech, Montoya will compete in all five rounds of FRMEC.

17-year-old Irish driver Alex Dunne had a solid F4 UAE campaign last winter that saw him finish 6th. Using this experience, Dunne had an outstanding 2022, dominating the British F4 title with eleven victories while finishing behind only Andrea Kimi Antonelli as runner-up in Italian F4. After racing for Hitech in both F4 UAE and British F4 last year, the Irish teen will race with them here for the final three rounds of FRMEC, taking over the car from Gabriele Mini. It has already been announced that he will also race with the Hitech in the upcoming GB3 championship.

There will be a sixth driver representing Hitech, taking the place of Jak Crawford, but it is yet to be announced by the team.

Mumbai Falcons

After winning the FRAC drivers’ and team’s titles in style twelve months ago, the Mumbai Falcons return with the continued technical support Prema and look to retain their crown in the desert. Having boasted the most talented driver line-up last year, they once again have a lot to shout about.

Firstly, they have retained the services of the current FRECA champion, Dino Beganovic (#10). This will be his third trip to the Middle East for a winter series, having scored the Indian team five podiums in 2022. This would be the basis of a title-winning season, as the Ferrari Driver Academy member used his consistency to finish 40 points ahead of Gabriele Mini atop the FRECA standings. He will step up to Formula 3 for this year where he will remain at Prema. The Swede will turn 19 years old in between Rounds 2 and 3 of FRMEC.

Alongside the FRECA champion is another driver who had an exceptional 2022, Andrea Kimi Antonelli (#12). At the age of just 16, Antonelli is already considered a future F1 star and for good reason. A member of the prestigious Mercedes Junior Team since 2019, the Italian comfortably dominated both the Italian and ADAC F4 championships, winning 22 races in the process. If that wasn’t enough, the prodigy was victorious in the FIA Motorsport Games for Italy, despite suffering from a broken left wrist during the event. He has since undergone surgery to recover in time for the winter series. Antonelli also competed in F4 UAE at the start of last year, and was able to score two wins and three more podiums in just two rounds. Following FRMEC, he will be graduating to FRECA with Prema.

The two drivers who will be partnering Antonelli at Prema in FRECA later this year will be Lorenzo Fluxá (#7) and Rafael Câmara (#8). 18-year-old Fluxá has heavy experience in the Middle East, having been involved in F4 UAE once and FRAC twice including last year with R-ace GP. Having spent the main season competing in FRECA with the same team, Fluxá finished twelfth with his best performance being a podium in the opening race.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Câmara also has experience in F4 UAE, being the runner-up last year with six victories in four rounds. Having been part of the same Prema team in ADAC and Italian F4 as Antonelli, the Brazilian mustered third in both series. He also remains a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy after joining in 2022.

Finally, 17-year-old Russian Kirill Smal will be partaking in the final three rounds of the series. Having had successful F4 campaigns in both Italy and Germany back in 2021, Smal finished fourth in Spanish F4 last year with MP Motorsport. He has also seen action in F4 UAE, where a total of four wins helped him achieve third place a couple of seasons ago.

Hyderabad Blackbirds by MP Motorsport

The Formula 2 champions have partnered up with Indian Racing League franchise Hyderabad Blackbirds to run a team for FRMEC. This will be both teams’ maiden endeavour into the series. They will run three cars permanently, with a fourth being switched throughout the series.

There is only one driver in FRMEC who has been announced to be competing in Formula 2 for this year, Brad Benavides (#62). The 21-year-old American will one of the older members of the grid, but has never raced in the series before. After making his debut as a rookie in Formula 3 last year with Carlin, Benavides was able to score a single points finish. Despite finishing 23rd in the standings, he was one of the drivers chosen to support the new PHM Racing squad in their joint F2-F3 venture with Charouz, as he graduates straight to F2.

After switching team mid-season from ART to MP Motorsport, Mari Boya (#60) will graduate from FRECA to F3 with the Dutch team. Starting here, the 18-year-old Spaniard will have the opportunity to compete in all five rounds before embarking on his F3 rookie campaign. An early season podium in FRECA was the highlight, ultimately finishing tenth in his second year in the series.

Frenchman Sami Meguetounif (#61) was able to make a brief appearance with Evans GP during last year’s FRAC, scoring six points in one round. He went on to compete in his rookie campaign of FRECA with MP Motorsport, where despite scoring points just three times all season, managed to achieve a maiden podium at Spa. Like Benavides and Boya, Meguetounif will also race for all five rounds of the FRMEC series.

While MP have announced that they will race with four cars, it is Sebastian Øgaard (#63) who be the rotational driver with the opportunity to start the series. He will only compete in the first two or three rounds, with the replacement yet to be announced. The Danish 18-year-old made a short scoreless appearance for two rounds in FRECA, but had a better time in Euroformula. Racing for Van Amersfoort, Øgaard achieved one win and a further podium but only competed for half of the campaign.

Pinnacle VAR

MP Motorsport aren’t the only Dutch Formula 2 team to partner up with an Asian outfit for this edition of FRMEC. Van Amersfoort Racing have joined forces with experienced Asian F3 and FRAC squad, Pinnacle Motorsport. The Hong-Kong based team beat the Prema-supported Abu Dhabi Racing to P3 in the standings last year.

For 2023, the joint effort will see an entry of four permanent drivers, including the returning vice-champion, Pepe Martí (#23). In an exceptional FRAC 2022 campaign, he was able to outscore F3 star Isack Hadjar, FRECA champion Dino Beganovic and Red Bull Junior Jak Crawford. Finishing second and winning the Rookie Cup was perhaps the highlight of the entire year for the Spaniard. What followed was a mediocre Formula 3 rookie year with Campos, achieving just two points. However, with the 17-year-old returning to the Middle East with a VAR-backed Pinnacle team, Martí will be hopeful of a return to form.

Pepe Martí smiling at the camera while making a thumbs up gesture
Pepe Martí won the FRAC Rookie Cup in 2022 | Credit: Formula Regional Asian Championship

At the age of 21, Rafael Villagómez (#38) will enter his third season of Formula 3, remaining with VAR in the process. There was a slight improvement for the Mexican, scoring his first points in the series last year, despite only managing two all year. Villagómez also has some previous experience in Asia, having competed in the F3 Asia series back in 2021, where he finished 17th with BlackArts Racing.

The longest name of the series goes to the Thai driver, Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak (#14). Competing with MP Motorsport in Spanish F4 last year, he started the year with a bang. A podium in the first race was followed by a pole and victory for the third race. However, Intraphuvasak failed to achieve anything higher than P8 for the rest of the campaign, finishing ninth. This was preceded by a solid F4 UAE series that saw his finish seventh with one win and three podiums.

The final member of the Pinnacle VAR driver line-up is Dutchman Niels Koolen (#68). He made his single-seater debut last year, with brief cameos in both Spanish and Italian F4.

PHM Racing

The newest addition to the F2 and F3 grid is the German team PHM, who will be working with Charouz for 2023 before taking over the team fully the following year. Having made their motorsport debut as a squad in 2022, PHM gave the likes of Prema a run for their money in both ADAC and Italian F4. Their introduction however came in F4 UAE last year, where two of their three drivers will return to the Middle East as part of their line-up for FRMEC. They will run three cars for the entire championship.

A decent campaign in F4 UAE helped convince PHM that Taylor Barnard (#5) was the right man for the summer. He finished eighth in Italian F4 last year, with a single podium being the highlight in a competitive championship. Alongside this, the 18-year-old from Norwich, England had a brilliant ADAC F4 campaign, finishing behind only Andrea Kimi Antonelli, with a total of five victories. With Barnard now making the massive step up to F3 with PHM, it is key that he makes the most of his time in FRMEC.

The second driver to be graduating from F4 up to F3 with PHM is Barnard’s teammate, Nikita Bedrin (#15). Having also competed in F4 UAE, ADAC and Italian F4 with the German team throughout 2022, Bedrin started off the year stronger than Barnard. Fourth place in both German F4 and F4 UAE would be the highlight. The Russian would be surpassed as the season progressed by his British colleague, finishing behind Barnard in both of the summer series. Nevertheless, a total of three wins and 14 podiums indicate a strong showing.

The final driver within the PHM line-up for FRMEC is Swiss 18-year-old Joshua Dufek (#13). After making his Formula Regional debut in FRAC last year with Hitech, Dufek stepped into FRECA with Van Amersfoort for the main season. Three podiums helped him to finish ninth as a rookie, with it being rumoured that he will remain in the series for a second year.

R-ace GP

Entering both F4 UAE and FRAC for the first time in 2022, the French team saw success with the likes of Hadrien David and Gabriel Bortoleto. This time round, R-ace GP will feature an extensive line-up of six drivers who will rotate between four cars throughout FRMEC.

Hungarian racer Levente Révész (#11) will compete for the entire series, having previously scored two points with Evans GP Academy in FRAC twelve months ago. He went on to feature in FRECA with Van Amersfoort Racing, but was unable to score any points in a tough rookie season.

One of the five Asian drivers in the series this year is Singapore’s Nikhil Bohra (#47). The 17-year-old is one of many drivers who competed in the trio of F4 UAE, ADAC and Italian F4 last year. Finishing 20th with R-ace GP in F4 UAE, Bohra went on to compete part-time in the German series while scoring a solid 47 points with US Racing in Italian F4. He will race as a rookie for the full championship in FRMEC.

British F4 fans will be familiar with the Peruvian speedster Matías Zagazeta (#88). A brilliant second year in the series back in 2021 saw him finish as runner-up to Matthew Rees. The now 19-year-old spent his 2022 season competing in FRECA with G4 Racing but struggled, failing to score any points despite competing in every round.

18-year-old Italian Francesco Braschi (#34) will return to the Middle East for a winter series in a third consecutive year. A tough 2022 saw Braschi race with three different teams in FRECA, scoring his first points in the penultimate round of the championship at the eighteenth time of asking. For FRMEC, he will compete with R-ace for solely the first two rounds.

Taking part in the final three rounds for R-ace GP is Norwegian, Martinius Stenshorne. The 16-year-old returns to the Middle East following a solid F4 UAE campaign last year which saw him grab a podium. While featuring in both Spanish and ADAC F4 for no more than two rounds, he achieved two podiums with Van Amersfoort in Italian F4, finishing seventh.

Many may have forgotten the name Tim Tramnitz, but the 18-year-old will travel to the Middle East for the first time to race in final two rounds of FRMEC. Following his intense battle throughout 2021 in both ADAC and Italian F4 with current F2 rookie Ollie Bearman, Tramnitz disappointed in his first year of FRECA. A season-high of fourth place and 15th in the standings with Trident was below his expectations, but the German is expected to return to form with R-ace GP.

R&B Racing

This small sportscar team make their debut in Formula Regional, becoming the first Chinese team to compete at this level since the 2019-20 Asian F3 series. They will field three cars for the entire championship, with two Chinese drivers and one Italian.

Their Italian entry is Giovanni Maschio (#2). He made his single-seater debut last year and competed in every round but one of the Italian F4 championship with AS Motorsport, failing to score any points.

The Chinese team’s most experienced driver will be Cenyu Han (#18). The 18-year-old was signed by Fernando Alonso’s driver management firm A14 Management towards the end of last year. He competed in both ADAC and Italian F4 series with Van Amersfoort in 2021, scoring a podium in the former, before taking the step up to FRECA for 2022 where he raced half-a-season with Monolite.

Lastly, Wang Zhongwei (#22) competed in Chinese F4 last year where he finished 17th in the standings.

Where to watch

All 15 races of the 2023 FRMEC season will be broadcasted via livestreams on the official FRMEC YouTube channel. Renowned English feeder series commentator Jake Sanson, will be the voice of the championship after working as part of a broadcasting team for both FRAC and F4 UAE last year.

Unfortunately, the qualifying and practice sessions will not be broadcasted. Instead, live timing will be provided by the series and will continue to run alongside the races for fans.

Header image credit: FRAC

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