For the penultimate round of the Formula Regional Middle East Championship, the series moved back to where it all started back in January – the Dubai Autodrome. Entering its final stages, a two-way title fight emerged following the back-to-back action at the Kuwait Motor Town during the two previous rounds. Round 4 gifted us with a new polesitter, two maiden race winners, and a lot of wheel-to-wheel combat. Here are Feeder Series’ takeaways.
By Tyler Foster
Antonelli close to title despite three Barnard podiums
So far in the championship, it has been an excellent showing from Mercedes junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli, with the Italian enjoying a 44-point lead approaching the fourth round. His biggest championship rival, PHM’s Taylor Barnard, has also impressed as a rookie in the Formula Regional cars, taking a dominant victory in the final race of Round 3 in Kuwait.
For Barnard, Round 4 was game time, as the soon-to-be F3 rookie needed to close the gap to his Italian rival if he had any chance of taking the title. Antonelli outqualified him in both sessions to start Race 1 on pole, but in an excellent display Barnard took the lead of the opening race from P4 on the grid, swooping past both Antonelli and his teammate Joshua Dufek.
Following a brief safety car, the leading Brit tried to catch the Italian off-guard at the restart, but was only able to hold him at bay for a matter of corners. Once Antonelli was through, he sailed off to victory – his third of the season. Meanwhile, Barnard had to settle for third place, after he lost out to the rampant Rafael Câmara.
In the reverse-grid Race 2, Barnard would have a chance to steal back some points, as he started two places further forward on the grid. An electric start saw him jump into the top six within the opening lap, but ahead of him was teammate Nikita Bedrin, who was in no mood to make things easy for him.
Meanwhile, starting from P10 was Antonelli. After his heroic charge from tenth to first in Kuwait last time out, the expectation was for a repeat job. The Italian’s ascent through the top ten here was much more gradual, and two five-second penalties for breaches of racing etiquette didn’t help. This led to him achieving only a solitary point, and he ended up classified right where he started, in tenth place.
It was clear that Barnard needed to use this opportunity to score big, but some strong defending from both Bedrin and Tim Tramnitz made it a more arduous task. With a collision ahead, he was able to snatch the final spot on the podium and take 15 crucial championship points.
Going into the final race, Antonelli started from second, but would be unable to clinch the title after Barnard’s performances earlier in the weekend. The Brit got the better of his Italian rival once again, overtaking him on the way to an excellent second place, while Antonelli dropped to fourth.
A collection of three podiums from three races in Round 4 came at the perfect time for the British driver, keeping him in the title fight. Antonelli still remains 34 points ahead, with the final round taking place this weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Nearly for Neate
The Alpine Academy’s latest recruit Aiden Neate has been unlucky at times during his FRMEC campaign. The 16-year-old almost took his maiden victory at the Formula Regional level in just his second race, but had to settle for P2, and since this podium, Neate has been relying on his consistency for points. Prior to Round 4, the Prema driver sat at tenth in the standings, with an average finish of P8.
Repeating the events of the opening round in Dubai, Neate found himself on the front-row in the reverse-grid Race 2, with another chance to stand on the top step of the podium. A mediocre start didn’t help his chances, as Mumbai Falcons’ Lorenzo Fluxá swooped past to steal second place. With Neate now in third place, the PHM of Nikita Bedrin began to close in from behind.
In the final moments of the race, Bedrin tried in desperate fashion to divebomb Neate and steal the podium place from him. This only ended in tears, as Bedrin collided with the rear of the Prema and ended his own race, while causing Neate to lose out on a second podium visit of the series. Subsequently, the Brit had to accept P5 as the reward for his efforts. Despite this, he has risen one spot in the standings to ninth, as he enters the final round this weekend.
Bedrin bounces back in PHM 1-2-3
It has not been the smoothest of openings for Nikita Bedrin. The soon-to-be F3 rookie with the Jenzer Motorsport team has struggled comparatively against his PHM teammate Taylor Barnard. The pair battled throughout 2022 in three separate F4 series (F4 UAE, ADAC F4 and Italian F4) but Bedrin has not managed to maintain this pace at the start of the new year.
However, Round 4 saw a surprise pole position for the Russian in the second qualifying session. Ironically, this is PHM’s best performance in qualifying in FRMEC this season, with Barnard failing to achieve pole so far. After a strong P5 in the first race, he lined up in sixth for Race 2, before finding himself in hot water when an overly bold move on Neate for third place on the final lap resulted in disaster.
For the final race, Bedrin would look to ignore the outcome of Race 2, and focus on converting his pole to a win. His PHM teammates, Dufek and Barnard, sat directly one and two rows behind him respectively. From the start, the PHM trio got a brilliant getaway, with only Antonelli separating them from each other. However, it only took one lap for Barnard to join his squad at the front of the field.
While Bedrin was able to hold his lead comfortably for the remainder of the race, Barnard and Dufek enjoyed a fight with Antonelli for the other two spots on the podium. Ultimately, the safety car halted a sprint finish, resulting in a PHM 1-2-3 made up of Bedrin, Barnard and Dufek. This was an excellent achievement for the German team, as they conclude their final preparations ahead of their FIA Formula 2 and Formula 3 entries this year. This also saw Bedrin become the ninth different FRMEC winner this season.
Martí takes first win in over a year
It’s fair to say that 17-year-old Pepe Martí has had a disappointing time in FRMEC so far this year. Having competed in the Formula Regional Asian Championship (FRAC) in 2022 with Pinnacle Motorsport, he finished as the runner-up, ahead of Isack Hadjar, Dino Beganovic and Jak Crawford. This excellent campaign would be followed by a difficult rookie season in FIA Formula 3, where he only achieved one points finish, meaning that his return to the Middle East for FRMEC needed to serve as a fresh start for him.
Unfortunately for Martí, he hasn’t been able to repeat his FRAC performances. In the first two rounds, the Spaniard scored 19 points, with a joint-highest finish of sixth place. After missing Round 3 in Kuwait, with Japanese driver Ayato Iwasaki taking his spot, Martí returned for Round 4 in Dubai and finally achieved what he failed to last year in F3.
A P10 finish in Race 1 left him on reverse-grid pole for Race 2 on Saturday morning. His last victory had come in August 2021 in Spanish F4, meaning it was about time that he returned to the top spot of the podium. With Prema’s Aiden Neate and fellow Spaniard Lorenzo Fluxá behind, Martí comfortably controlled the front and took a commanding lights-to-flag victory, helping him rise from fourteenth to twelfth in the standings. He will be returning to FIA F3 next month with Campos, hopefully with some extra confidence from this win.
“[This win] is really special,” Martí said in a post-race interview. “Obviously, we’ve had quite a tough time this season. We’re struggling a bit to catch up to the Premas and the PHMs, so to get a win in this fashion – not dominant, but on the edge every single lap being pushed by Lorenzo [Fluxá], from my side I think it was one of my best races. I didn’t make any mistakes at all from lap four to the end. It was a great race and I’m just really happy to finally get the win.”
Header image credit: FRMEC
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