Van't Hoff - in his rookie openwheeler season with Dubai-based Xcel Motorsport - came into Round 3 with four race wins to his name and added another one yesterday, while teammate Kirill Smal from Russia took two race victories today plus one by CRAM Durango’s Enzo Trulli from Italy. Smal had been fourth on points coming into the weekend, sitting behind the UAE's Hamda Al Qubaisi, but an engine misfire in Race 4 put paid to the Emirati's championship hopes, giving the Russian a chance to move into third outright.
Fourteen drivers from 11 countries formed part of the third round of F4UAE, with French rookie Noam Abramczyk joining Xcel Motorsport (in place of Matias Zagazeta) and Francesco Braschi returning to BWT Mücke Motorsport.
“It's becoming well apparent now who the title contenders are for 2021 and it's really exciting to watch their battles on track because they're not afraid to go three-wide into turn one and that confidence makes for exciting racing," said F4UAE technical delegate Craig Thompson. “We're seeing a mix of teams being represented on the podium too, and drivers of varying experience are up the front a lot so it's definitely the strongest field of frontrunners we've had in our five years of F4UAE. We look forward to heading back to Yas Marina Circuit for the penultimate round next week before returning to Dubai."
Two qualifying sessions on Friday morning set the pace for the weekend's four races with the results a repeat of Round 2 in Abu Dhabi. Van’t Hoff (#17) again clocked both the fastest (1m38.240s) and second-fastest (1m38.403s) lap times in Q1 to earn pole position for the first two races, as well as the fastest time in Q2 (1m38.143s) to earn pole for Race 3.
The front row saw title contenders Van't Hoff and Trulli (#34) starting from P1 and P2 and staying that way into turn one. Lap one was marred by an incident where Nikita Bedrin (#15) was found to have caused an avoidable collision with Hamda Al Qubaisi (#88) who was forced to retire. After being taken to the medical centre, Bedrin withdrew from the rest of the weekend after sustaining hand injuries. The order on the restart was Van't Hoff, Trulli and Pepe Marti (#13), but a fast-charging Kirill Smal (#7) overtook Marti for third in the closing stages to complete the podium for Race 1. Van't Hoff's win was his fifth of the season.
In the second 20-minute race, Van’t Hoff lead from pole but ran wide on the opening lap that allowed Marti to overtake for the lead, but soon saw a battle of four cars fighting for podium places. Marti lead Van't Hoff, Trulli and Al Qubaisi, with all four constantly applying pressure on each other before Trulli moved into P1 by lap four. A stranded Jamie Day (#24) brought out the safety car, with the restart happening with just four minutes remaining on the clock. While Trulli extended his lead, Smal soon entered the equation to fight for third place against Van't Hoff and making the pass stick to earn a podium finish behind Trulli and Marti. The win was Trulli's third race victory in as many weekends.
The front row for Race 3 was a Van't Hoff versus Trulli event again and the championship rivals fought side-by-side into turn one. Trulli got the lead early and let the pack behind fight for podium places including Van't Hoff, Smal, Marti and Al Qubaisi. Despite clocking the quickest lap of the race, the 18-year-old Emirati racer narrowly missed the top three, finishing just 0.176s behind Van't Hoff who finished third. Smal fought for the win - his second in F4UAE - with Trulli finishing in second place.
The grid for Race 4 was made up of the top-eight finishers of Race 3 reversed, which gave both the BWT Mücke Motorsport drivers of Jonas Ried (#77) and Francesco Braschi (#28) a front row start. An engine misfire for Al Qubaisi saw the teen pull into the pitlane before the race started, and only venturing out to circulate later in the race after engine repairs.
By the end of lap one, championship leader Van't Hoff had moved up from sixth to second place, challenging Ried for the lead until Smal was soon on his tail in third. By lap three a six-car train was battling for podium places but as the race settled it was Ried, Van't Hoff and Smal in order on track before the latter soon moved up to second place. On lap seven, Braschi went wide to give Smal the advantage and the lead, with all three staying in their positions by race's end despite much fighting on track for position. Smal took the win three seconds clear of Braschi to seal his third race victory in open-wheelers.
After three rounds, Van’t Hoff leads the provisional standings ahead of Trulli second and Smal third. Round 4 of the 2021 F4UAE Championship, the penultimate round, heads back to Yas Marina Circuit next week (February 4-6).