A blue and white car with orange accents leads a train of five cars navigating a left-right corner complex with NGK Spark Plugs bollards in the background

Barnard ‘starting to look like another Jenson Button’ – FRMEC commentator Jake Sanson

The opening round of the Formula Regional Middle East Championship at the Dubai Autodrome was a wide-open affair, with no single driver dominant throughout the weekend and eight separate podium finishers. Official FRMEC commentator Jake Sanson had the best seat in the house to spectate on the action. Feeder Series caught up with him to get his thoughts on Round 1 of the winter series.

By Tyler Foster

FRMEC organiser Top Speed have had a busy 11 months since last year’s Formula Regional Asian Championship concluded. With the added responsibility of leading the F4 UAE Championship for the first time this year, Top Speed have made a concerted effort to improve the overall standard of competition in order to continue attracting the finest of the junior racing world.

Having seen first-hand the effort put into running the series, Sanson observed a major difference in the series’ overall quality in 2023.

“My first impressions of FRMEC is that the overall product has definitely improved from last year. The standard of competition has risen again, the teams are working harder than they ever have before and the championship organisers have stepped it up a gear in the running of every element of the paddock. There’s already a feeling of a world-class operation this early on. It feels like the atmosphere in Formula 2 or Formula E. There’s an ambition, a drive to be world-class even though it’s a Formula Regional championship. Everybody is determined to be the best that they can be.”

With the format of two qualifying sessions and three races across a weekend, the opportunity for exciting racing in such a competitive series is inevitable. We saw an eventful first race with multiple battles across the field and an intense fight for victory. For Sanson, however, the highlight of the round was elsewhere.

“For me, the race of the weekend was actually Race 2. Drivers were pushed to their limits in terms of pressure, especially Nikhil Bohra and Aiden Neate up front. Both men rose to the occasion, found their feet in a tough car to drive and didn’t put a wheel wrong. The tension and anticipation kept me on the edge of my seat throughout and it was a pure motor race even if there was no wheel-to-wheel duel. Sometimes the purity of the sport can reward you with a tense encounter, and that’s what Race 2 gave us.”

The tight action of Race 2 saw perhaps the standout driver of Round 1, PHM Racing’s Taylor Barnard, reach the podium for the second time that weekend. The 18-year-old is expected to graduate to Formula 3 with the German team later this year after impressing in both the Italian and ADAC Formula 4 Championships.

A technical infringement saw Barnard excluded from the two FRMEC qualifying sessions, meaning he had to start the opening race in last. As Sanson explains, what followed was a triumphant recovery.

“Without a doubt, the driver of the weekend for me was Taylor Barnard. After qualifying, he was destitute and demoralised in a way I’d never seen. His actual words were, ‘The championship’s already over’. For him to dig deep and find a pair of podiums is quite extraordinary, particularly in the Formula Regional car. It’s not easy to overtake in this car, and it’s even harder to overtake on the Dubai Autodrome. Charging from last to third shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued. The kid has exceptional talent and is already starting to look like another Jenson Button. He has the same tenacity, the same determination and the same can-do attitude. He’s a real star for the future.”

The two podiums scored by Barnard placed him third in the standings going into Round 2 at Kuwait Motor Town from 27 to 28 January. Andrea Kimi Antonelli leads the championship by six points ahead of Mumbai Falcons teammate Rafael Câmara. Interestingly, despite their strong results, both are winless. However, their consistent performances did not go unnoticed.

“I was very impressed and surprised with the consistency of both Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Rafael Câmara. They haven’t been in this car long at all, and they are already both on the pace and at the sharp end with smooth rhythm and consistent pace. Both men are permanent title contenders for me, and in this category it’s very much about what happens when you don’t win compared to when you do.

“I have no doubt that both men will have a chance to stand on the top step of the podium, and both are likely to seize it without mistakes or hesitation. But when you consider we already have three different winners, a rivalry brewing between [Gabriele] Minì and [Dino] Beganovic and several other drivers who are yet to show their hand, we’re in for an epic show in Kuwait.”

Editor’s note: Jake Sanson is also the karting editor for Feeder Series.

Header photo credit: FRMEC

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