Wharton and Rinicella fight back, but Ugochukwu extends his lead: 4 takeaways from F4 UAE Round 2

Round 2 of the 2023 F4 UAE championship took us to Kuwait Motor Town for the start of a busy double-header that sees racing commence for Round 3 just three days after the checkered flag falls for the final race of Round 2. The playing field was levelled in Kuwait — a track Formula 4 cars have never competed on — with data from previous seasons playing no role in the final results. Feeder Series unpacks the action from a hectic second round.

By George Brabner

What makes Kuwait Motor Town a unique location for racing in the F4 UAE Championship is that both teams and drivers have never attacked the venue in anger. This is in contrast to the previous round at Dubai Autodrome — a circuit which has been a core pillar of the series since its inauguration, and whose familiarity has made it easier for those less experienced in Formula 4 machinery to get up to speed.

The reversal of this dynamic saw a different selection of drivers rise to the top, such as Zachary David, who took his first F4 victory in the final race of the weekend. However, just as in Dubai, Ugo Ugochukwu managed to consistently keep himself at the front of the pack.

Ugochukwu gains ground but faces stiff competition

After winning two races at the Dubai Autodrome, Ugo Ugochukwu came to Kuwait with momentum on his side. The championship leader would line up second for Race 1 and Race 3, but there were some newer faces around him. MP Motorsport’s Valerio Rinicella enjoyed an upturn in pace after taking a podium two weeks prior, whilst Mumbai Falcons driver James Wharton also returned to the front after a messy Round 1.

Whilst the season opener saw Ugochukwu challenged by rookies Tuukka Taponen and Arvid Lindblad at the sharp end of the field, the experienced pair of Rinicella and Wharton ultimately had the edge in performance. Rinicella took pole for Race 1, with Wharton snatching the honours for the third race.

Ugochukwu’s Race 1 saw him slot in behind his fellow second-year F4 challengers after Wharton made the most of the slipstream down the huge back straight into Turn 2 to fly past him and Rinicella on the opening lap.

After a safety car and red flag period caused by a multitude of Lap 1 incidents, Wharton took his first victory of the season over Rinicella and Ugochukwu. The American had to settle for third despite his best efforts to clinch second from the MP Motorsport driver.

In Race 2, Ugochukwu converted his pole position to victory, despite a late challenge from James Wharton — with the two drivers going toe-to-toe throughout the final laps.

However, Race 3 would see Ugochukwu caught up in an uncharacteristic Lap 1 incident with Wharton, making contact with the Australian who tried to retake the lead into Turn 2. Ugochukwu would finish 18th, but with Wharton not scoring, Tuukka Taponen losing his front wing and Lindblad only finishing seventh, the American’s championship lead remained intact.

Mixed emotions in the rookie class

Tuukka Taponen and Arvid Lindblad stole the show in Dubai, as both drivers had mightily impressive full-time debuts. However, neither driver managed to quite match the pace of Ugochukwu, Wharton or Rinicella over the course of Round 2.

Lindblad, who arguably had the tougher weekend, qualified in tenth for the first race. Despite this, he finished Race 1 in fifth place, ahead of Taponen in sixth.

Race 2 and 3 would bring contrasting fortunes for the pair. In the second race of the weekend, Lindblad lost his front wing whilst Taponen scored his third podium. In Race 3, the rookies’ roles were reversed; Taponen lost his front wing after contact with Rinicella on Lap 1, whilst Lindblad kept out of trouble as he battled to a finishing position of seventh.

Over the course of the weekend, it appeared that some drivers managed to click with the Kuwait Motor Town circuit better than others. R-ace GP rookie Zachary David did just that in Race 3 as he took the first victory of his Formula 4 career from fifth on the starting grid. The Maltese driver had shown strong pace in testing and practice, although his weekend got off to a rocky start after qualifying last for Race 1.

A fifth-place finish in Race 2 after starting from sixth was the start of David’s move back to the top. Race 3 saw him take the opportunity for victory with two hands, as Rinicella, Wharton, Ugochukwu and Taponen all faltered. With better pace than the other rookies around him, he deservingly took his first F4 victory — a confidence boost which is bound to follow him into Round 3.

Xcel Motorsport and Yas Heat Racing Academy find results

Two out of the three Emirati teams on the F4 UAE grid, Xcel Motorsport and Yas Heat Racing Academy, had a strong outing at the Kuwait Motor Town Circuit.

Keanu Al Azhari, who took back-to-back podium finishes prior to the season in the F4 UAE Trophy Race, was expected to be one of the two teams’ fastest drivers as the season got underway. He showed strong race pace in Dubai by making up ten places in Race 1, although he lost his front wing in his front wing in both remaining races. Here in Kuwait, he attacked in a more measured fashion, yet with the same speed he showed two weeks ago.

The fight for the late points paying positions was as aggressive as it was at the Dubai Autodrome with the long run between Turn 1 and 2, paired with the technical Sector 3, offering a plethora of overtaking opportunities.

Keeping his nose clean in all three races, Al Azhari took two points finishes for the Yas Heat Racing Academy squad — more representative than the results from Round 1. Hamda Al Qubaisi, another member of the Yas Heat programme, was also snapping at his heels; she ended the round with a best finish of P11.

Xcel Motorsport also had a more successful weekend than last. Federico Rifai, who, just like Al Azhari, was a star in the Emirati karting ranks, lost his front wing in Race 1 after starting ninth — something he did twice in Dubai — but finally managed to make his pace count in Race 2 and 3, finishing tenth and fifth respectively.

Race 3 also gave Xcel Motorsport a double top-five finish, as Noah Lisle led laps to take a best finish of third, picking up fifteen crucial points to add to his tally.

Points begin to stack up

Whilst the move to Kuwait Motor Town brought with it various changes to the pecking order both overall and in the rookie class, drivers such as Theophile Nael, Valetin Kluss and Noah Stromsted continued to score well. With just over one-quarter of the grid able to take points per race, every top ten finish absolutely counts.

Theophile Nael proved to be fast; the Frenchman qualified eighth and eleventh for Race 1 and Race 3 respectively and took up fifth position on the grid for Race 2.

A fourth-place finish for the Sainteloc Racing driver in the first race of the round showed he had the pace, and wheel-to-wheel ability, to compete within the top five — but penalties in both Race 2 and Race 3 put a dampener on his weekend. Despite this, two points finishes after a strong round in Dubai means he sits eighth in the championship standings.

PHM Racing, who made their team debut in F4 UAE last year, boast an impressive driver lineup this season — with Valentin Kluss and Noah Strømsted particularly making the most of the car underneath them. In what was ultimately the centre of so much action this weekend, Kluss impressed with points in all three races as he begins his second year in F4.

While his teammate, Strømsted, is much less experienced, the Danish driver does not lack pace or prowess in battle. An eighth and a sixth-place finish in Round 2 sees him making progress in the same direction as his PHM stablemate Kluss, and places him twelfth in the championship standings.

Header photo credit: F4 UAE


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s