A grid of 39 cars races down the front straight of the Dubai Autodrome with "Hankook 24H Dubai" in the background on the signage

Jake Sanson: 2023’s F4 UAE ‘the most competitive single-seater grid I’ve ever seen’

After an entertaining first round of F4 UAE, Jake Sanson reviewed the main takeaways of the weekend in the latest edition of the Feeder Series Podcast. Our karting editor and commentator of the FIA F4 UAE Championship analyses the performances of three protagonists that stood out in the season opener.

By Grégoire Devaux

Single-seater racing is finally back, with the opening of winter series such as FRMEC, FROC and arguably the most prestigious of them all: the FIA F4 UAE championship. This season, an astonishing grid of 39 drivers will compete during five rounds between Dubai, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

This first round at the Dubai Autodrome lived up to expectations as McLaren Young Driver Programme member Ugo Ugochukwu won two of the three races. But the American isn’t the only one to have impressed our guest in the latest episode of Feeder Series Podcast – F4 UAE commentator Sanson.

The Feeder Series Podcast featuring Jake Sanson is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts

Ugochukwu, Lindblad, Taponen star

As always, the FIA F4 UAE gathers a lot of big names ahead of the regional F4 season. Last year, Charlie Wurz lifted the title ahead of his season with Prema in Italian F4, where he finished 4th.

This season could again demonstrate the competitiveness and the superiority of Italian F4 as the current championship podium after the first round will all be teammates in a few months with Prema in Italian F4.

Ugochukwu is already an established name for everyone who’s paying attention to Formula 4. The 15-year-old American finished third in British F4 for his first season of single-seater. Engaged with Prema, the McLaren Academy driver got two wins and a podium in the season opener in Dubai.

According to Sanson, there is no surprise in seeing the native of New York topping the ranking after the first round. “Everybody was expecting him to be at the front. He has a year of F4 behind him,” Sanson said. “He knows the car very well and he’s arguably in the best team, Prema. We talk about them being the pinnacle of F4.”

The red and white car of Ugo Ugochukwu strolling down pit lane past an NGK
Ugo Ugochukwu | Credit: F4 UAE

If F4 UAE is a winter championship, there is still a lot of pressure for some drivers. Red Bull Junior Team driver Arvid Lindblad is part of them. After taking part in the last two rounds of Italian F4 with VAR last season, the 15-year-old British driver will stay in the same championship, joining Prema for his first full season in single-seaters.

However, as a Red Bull Junior Team driver in his second season and competing in the best team of the championship, results will be expected soon. Lindblad improved his results throughout the weekend, finishing in dominant fashion by winning the third race. In the Feeder Series Podcast, Sanson affirmed that these results could be massive for Lindblad’s season.

“He’s riding with a lot of pressure this year as a second-year Red Bull junior driver. I think your second year is always very tough when you’re in the Red Bull academy. You have to pull some results out of the bag. The win this weekend was a catalyst for Lindblad. It was a massive deal and I think it will give him a lot of confidence and resurgence. And I think all of the fear that he might have had last year will fade over the next couple of weeks.”

Aside from Ugochukwu and Lindblad, Tuukka Taponen was one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. After dominating karting for a few years, winning almost each of the most prestigious competition at this level, the 16-year-old Finn will step up to single-seaters on a full-time basis this season after making three appearances in Formula Academy Finland in 2021 and 2022.

Taponen will be teammates with Lindblad with Prema in Italian F4. Whilst the F4 UAE Championship is his first taste of the Tatuus F4 T-421, the Finn ended the first round with two second-place finishes to his name. This is a tantalising result that does not surprise Sanson, who is convinced of the potential of the 16-year-old Ferrari Academy driver.

“I think pretty much anybody who knows karting knows that Tuukka is one of the most immaculate talents to come out of the sport, probably in the last 20 years. Certainly, [he’s] the best Finn to come out of junior academy racing probably since Kimi Räikkönen. It’s massive praise, but I think it’s fair.”

Drivers with “homework to do”

With 39 drivers competing in the opening round of F4 UAE, the competitiveness of the championship leaves many drivers in the shadow of Ugochukwu, Lindblad and Taponen. Only 14 drivers have managed to score points in the opening round, which brings a lot of pressure for some of them ahead of a tough weekend in Kuwait – a challenging track that is not a usual destination for drivers.

“Only 14 out of the 39 drivers have scored points, so there is a lot of drivers with homework to do, which is going to be quite interesting going into Kuwait,” Sanson said. “It’s a circuit that nobody ever really has raced a single-seater on at an international level before, so that’s going to be quite interesting to see how it’s going to play out.”

“The talent in F4 UAE is extraordinary”

Whatever the outcome, this year’s F4 UAE championship seems to be one of the most competitive winter series ever, leaving other championships – like FRMEC, FROC and the upcoming Formula Winter Series – in the shadow of the series’ attractiveness.

“The talent in F4 UAE is extraordinary. Look at the drivers that are actually in F4 UAE this season. There is 39 of them, and I would say that there are probably about 36 of them that are world-class, which is quite incredible.

“[F4 UAE is] probably the most competitive single-seater grid I’ve ever seen, which is quite an amazing thing to say. But in terms of the level and equality of the talent out there, it’s absolutely phenomenal and we’re going to see 12 really good races from now on.”

The second round of the FIA F4 UAE Championship will take place in Kuwait from 27–28 January. It will be the opportunity for drivers that have still yet to score points to find their first breakthrough of the 2023 season.

Header photo credit: F4 UAE


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