Three new single-seater race winners were crowned at the opening round of the FIA F4UAE Championship powered by Abarth, as the category returned to racing for its fifth season at the Dubai Autodrome.
Xcel Motorsport’s Dilano Van’t Hoff from the Netherlands was the man to beat in qualifying, scoring three pole position starts and converting two into race wins, while his teammate Kirill Smal from Russia and CRAM Durango’s Enzo Trulli from Italy were the other two victors.
“While there were a few incidents, we were really impressed with the standard of racing and heated battles on track already,” said F4UAE technical delegate Craig Thompson. “Every year the level of racing is raised and if this round is anything to go by it’s going to be an exciting five weeks of competition. Congrats to all of our new race winners, plus we thank them and our international teams for making the trip to the UAE to compete in these challenging global conditions for sport. We look forward to a strong championship season ahead.”
Fourteen drivers from 11 countries formed part of the opening weekend of racing, while for 10 of them it was their first car race out of karting. Held as a support event to the famed Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai, this week’s Round 1 marked the first of five back-to-back rounds in the UAE, split between the Dubai circuit and Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
A revised qualifying format was introduced for 2021, with two 15-minute sessions held back-to-back on Thursday morning. In part one of qualifying, Van’t Hoff (#17) clocked a fastest time of 2m00.013s which gave him pole position for Race 1, and his second-fastest time of 2m00.378s was enough for pole position for Race 2. In part two of qualifying the Dutch racer again went fastest with a 1m.59.611s lap - the only driver to go in the 1m59s bracket in qualifying - to give him pole position for Race 3.
Starting alongside teammate Pepe Marti (#13), Van’t Hoff stalled at the start which allowed the Spaniard to charge to the lead into turn one. The Dutch racer recovered to sixth by the end of lap one, passing teammate Smal (#7) and Mücke Motorsport’s Francesco Braschi (#28) to take fourth next lap around.
While Marti ran away out front, Trulli (#34) passed Abu Dhabi Racing’s Hamda Al Qubaisi (#88) for second and Al Qubaisi held on to third as the race was red flagged at the end of the fourth lap. Marti had spun and crashed heavily coming out of the penultimate turn, leaving his car in pieces and on fire; Marti was thankfully unharmed.
At the restart, new leader Trulli only managed two laps under the green flag before the safety car returned for the stranded 3Y Technology driver Saud Al Saud (#3). With a final dash over the finishline, Trulli took his maiden single-seater win ahead of Van’t Hoff and Al Qubaisi.
In the second 20-minute race, Van’t Hoff lead from pole to the chequered flag and in turn took the championship lead on points. Braschi started and finished second, while Al Qubaisi overtook Xcel Motorsport’s Jamie Day (#24) for third on the opening lap. The Emirati racer stayed in podium contention until the end of the race when both Smal and Day went past. Both Al Saud and Marti were unable to have their cars repaired in time for the race, leaving 12 starters for the Thursday evening sprint.
All 14 cars started the third race on Friday morning, with Van’t Hoff on pole alongside Al Qubaisi. On the start it was Trulli who stalled this time, Al Qubaisi lead briefly in the first sector, but it wasn't enough to hold off Van't Hoff's front-running form. Marti also came to a stop a lap later due to electrical issues and caused the safety car to be deployed.
Contact was also made between Enzo Scionti (#29) and Jonas Ried (#77), requiring both to pit for repairs, with only the latter able to return to the track for the restart. A solid battle ensued between the two leaders however the sole female racer for this season was unable to hunt down Van’t Hoff who took the chequered flag. Smal finished third with Day in fourth; a second fourth-place finish for the Dubai-based rookie.
The grid for Race 4 was made up of the top-eight finishers of Race 3 reversed, which gave Trulli pole position alongside Xcel Motorsport’s Nikita Bedrin (#15). The Italian lead into turn one, but by the end of the opening lap Bedrin had slipped back to fourth with Thailand’s Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak (#14) and Smal moving into second and third respectively.
With five drivers at one stage fighting for second place, Smal’s better tyre conditions enabled the Russian to overtake Trulli for the lead with just three minutes to go. The final order at the chequered flag was Smal, Trulli and Inthraphuvasak.
After the four races, Van’t Hoff leads the provisional standings ahead of Smal second and Trulli third.
Round 2 of the 2021 F4UAE Championship will be held at Yas Marina Circuit next week (January 21-23).
Enzo Trulli, #34 CRAM Durango: "It was amazing to win, I didn't expect the result. I had a really good start and a bit of luck and was really fast. In the two qualifying sessions we had some issues with the car and for race one we tried something different and it went well. My father [Jarno] was really happy, he said that the first race in cars is not easy so this was a great result. In the last race I was unlucky because I was leading with a good gap and then the safety car comes out. [Kirill] Smal had new tyres so it was difficult to stay in front of him."
Paul Hardy, Xcel Motorsport Team Manager: "We came into this weekend running the most amount of cars we've ever ran in eight total, so we had to get a lot of new crew in but everyone's done a really great job. It all ran smoothly except for the incident with Marti yesterday and everyone was still at the circuit at 4.30 am finishing the repairs. Unfortunately not the best of days again for him with electrical issues, but to win three out of four races it was a nice way to start the new season."