Whilst Round 1 of the 2023 F4 UAE season was all about rookies as Tuukka Taponen and Arvid Lindblad left their impression on the championship, the shift to Kuwait Motor Town for Round 2 has seen second-year challengers James Wharton and Valerio Rinicella rise to the top. Feeder Series spoke to the top two finishers from Race 1 on the ground in Kuwait.
By George Brabner
Since arriving for testing at the Kuwait Motor Town circuit earlier in the week, MP Motorsport’s Rinicella has appeared to be a serious contender for race victories after picking up a podium finish at the Dubai Autodrome.
Whilst Mumbai Falcons racer Wharton had a rougher start to his season campaign, he has turned things around this weekend by qualifying third for Race 1 and on pole for Race 3.
Wharton finds his groove
Wharton has certainly proven why you can never write a driver off after just one round. A strong qualifying meant that the Australian driver had his eyes set solely on his two second-year contenders: Ugo Ugochukwu and Rinicella.
Despite Rinicella’s best efforts, Wharton made great use of the 1.075-kilometre-long straight between Turns 1 and 2 to dive down the inside of both the Italian driver and Ugochukwu on the first lap. In doing so, Wharton claimed the lead of the race – one which he would maintain until the chequered flag.
Wharton’s victory is exactly what he had expected of himself in Dubai, with the Australian driver looking to make amends for the points he missed in Round 1 of F4 UAE.
“Probably should have done it two weeks ago, but it’s good to finally get back to where I think I should be,” Wharton told Feeder Series.
Race 1 was a level-headed drive from Wharton, who proved to be decisive and consistent. Despite the safety car restart after a red flag period following numerous collisions on the opening lap, and the close proximity of Rinicella on the restart, the experienced Aussie was keen to play down the pressure he faced.
“I think overall it was pretty calm from my side. It wasn’t so difficult. I think the biggest thing now is I’ve won one race, [but] now I’ve got to do the next two.”
A second-row start for Race 2 followed by pole for Race 3 puts Wharton in prime position to put himself in the driving seat of the championship.
Rinicella gains pace
With one podium to his name in Dubai, Rinicella was a dark horse in the season opener. The Italian driver was deep amongst the top ten battles in all three races, with most combattants entering their second year in Formula 4 cars.
Rinicella and MP Motorsport turned up the heat as the F4 UAE field arrived in Kuwait, topping two test sessions on Wednesday and Thursday before snatching the Race 1 pole from Ugochukwu.
Rinicella’s comfort in the car was crystal clear from his very first laps. “I’m feeling pretty good. We improved a lot here at this new track,” he said.
Despite starting on pole, Rinicella could not keep Wharton behind him off the line. Once the race got back underway, he found himself a little adrift from the Mumbai Falcons driver.
Unable to exploit the slipstream from Wharton, Rinicella found himself looking in his mirrors the more he fell back from the leader.
“I tried to reduce the gap with James, but he was too fast, so I preferred to defend the second position,” Rinicella told Feeder Series.
With one opportunity for victory having passed him by, Rinicella’s focus has now shifted to Saturday. “Now we have to see tomorrow. We start P3 for both races.”
The pace Rinicella has found this weekend has the opportunity to have a huge impact on his championship as a whole, with F4 UAE returning to Kuwait Motor Town for Round 3.
Additional reporting by Anvith Reddy
Header photo credit: F4 UAE
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