Freddie Slater Tops Leaderboard after Abu Dhabi Season-Opener

Published on Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Freddie Slater Tops Leaderboard after Abu Dhabi Season-Opener

Freddie Slater emerged from the opening weekend of the 2024 F4 UAE Championship at the Yas Marina Circuit with the series lead following his first win in single-seater racing, and a hat-trick of finishes in the top four. The 15-year-old British talent, who only moved into F4 in August 2023, was a force all weekend with Mumbai Falcons Racing. Slater finished third in the opening race, then charged from 10th in the starting line-up for the reversed-grid sequel to snatch fourth place on the sprint to the finish line. Slater rounded out the weekend by claiming victory in the weekend’s final race.

That success for Slater came after Keanu Al Azhari was ordered to hand him the lead behind the safety car after the Dubai racer had run off track at the opening corner to stay in front. It was nevertheless a strong weekend for the 16-year-old Yas Heat Racing Academy star, who won last November’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix support races. Al Azhari was fastest in both qualifying sessions and claimed a pair of second places in race 1 and race 3.

A convincing victory in the opening race was the first in car racing for 16-year-old Alpine Formula 1 protégé Kean Nakamura-Berta. In a race uninterrupted by any safety car action, the London-based Japanese-Slovakian simply drove away from the field in his Mumbai Falcons car to win by a convincing margin. Local hero Rashid Al Dhaheri was also a force, the 15-year-old Prema Racing talent from Abu Dhabi completing the podium in the final race in what was a strong season-opening weekend for UAE drivers.

Commented H. E. Khalid Ben Sulayem, President of the Emirates Motorsports Organization: “It's been eight years since the launch of the Formula4 Series in the UAE, and as the National Sporting Authority for Motorsports, we look at the present with a mix of pride and hope. Our strategy for talent development includes a ladder that enables young talents to reach new heights in their practice of the sport, and Formula 4 is one of the key pillars of this ecosystem.

“Proudly hosting one of the region's strongest F4 championships and witnessing the rapid development of talented UAE drivers, our hope for a secured and promising future is fortified by visible results. Emphasizing that the championship's ongoing health is crucial for the future of the sport, I would like to thank Top Speed, the championship promoter, for their efforts and contribution to the success of the project.”

As usual, the reversed-grid race two mixed things up. Reigning F4 South East Asia champion Jack Beeton led until the penultimate lap when the experienced Nikita Bedrin slipped ahead to take victory for PHM AIX Racing. In doing so, the 18-year-old Bedrin added to his two victories from F4 UAE in 2022. Hitech Pulse-Eight’s British racer Deagen Fairclough also got ahead of Australian Beeton’s AGI Sport car on the final lap to grab second place.

After a frantic weekend of action, Slater leads the championship by 13 points from Nakamura-Berta, while Al Azhari and Fairclough are tied for third, three points further adrift. Nakamura-Berta also leads the Rookie standings – he took class honours in the first and third races but was beaten into second place in the middle outing by R-ace GP’s impressive French talent Jules Caranta, who was making his car racing debut over the weekend.

The championship remains at the FIA Grade 1 Yas Marina Circuit for round two from January 19-21, when the field of fledgling talents will contest three more races, this time on the full Grand Prix track configuration.


Race 1
Keanu Al Azhari took a comfortable pole position by topping the opening qualifying session, with the action taking place this weekend on Yas Marina’s Corkscrew layout, which takes a different course to the Grand Prix circuit from Turns 3 to 5. But the Dubai starlet was unable to hold the advantage and fell to fourth, allowing fellow front-row starter Kean Nakamura-Berta into a lead he was never under threat of losing.

Far from deterred, Al Azhari immediately fought back, with a wide move at the long Turn 9 left-hander allowing him up the inside of Alex Powell and into third place at Turns 10 and 11. He then slipstreamed Freddie Slater on the long straight to Turn 6 and ducked up the inside to move into second place. By the end of the opening lap, Al Azhari had a deficit of 1.5 seconds to Nakamura-Berta. And the race leader relentlessly added to the margin, finally winning by 5.608 seconds.

Nakamura-Berta’s lead widened even more emphatically on lap six when Slater tried a move on Al Azhari into Turn 6. That was the closest the Briton got to taking back second place and, when he ran wide at the exit of Turn 9 on the penultimate lap, he instead came under pressure from Jamaican-American Mercedes F1 protégé Powell, his Mumbai Falcons team-mate. Slater held on to complete the podium.

Deagen Fairclough jumped from seventh on the grid to run fifth early on ahead of Rashid Al Dhaheri and Dion Gowda. Al Dhaheri made it past the Briton on the fifth lap but ran off track in doing so and made it easy for Fairclough to repass him half a lap later. Al Dhaheri finally made it past for good to take fifth position on lap 12 of 17, while Indian Mumbai Falcons driver Gowda followed suit with a brave move for sixth in the narrow Turns 12-15.

Ferrari protégé Doriane Pin was eighth in her Prema car, the Frenchwoman completing the top three Rookie class drivers behind overall winner Nakamura-Berta and Powell. She passed Gabriel Stilp, who had earned a 10-second penalty for jumping the start, with four laps remaining. Hitech racer Stilp dropped to 17th with his penalty, promoting Nikita Bedrin to ninth, while Xcel Motorsport-run Italian Alvise Rodella won his race-long battle with Matteo Quintarelli to claim the final point.


Race 2
With the top 12 from the opening race reversed on the grid for the second encounter, Jack Beeton was on pole position. The Australian maintained the lead off the start, while Nikita Bedrin, fourth on the grid, passed third starter Alvise Rodella off the line, and then also got ahead of Saintéloc Racing’s Emirates driver Matteo Quintarelli during the opening lap to take second.

Bedrin was immediately applying the pressure to Beeton at the front, while Quintarelli held third, and Deagen Fairclough fended off Rodella for fourth. This remained the order until the sixth lap, when the safety car was called out to retrieve the crashed car of Raphaël Narac from the barriers at Turn 15.

At the restart, Bedrin drew alongside Beeton, but the long-time leader had the inside line for Turn 9 and held on. Fairclough, meanwhile, got down the inside of Quintarelli for third and then zoned in on the battle at the front. This really hotted up with just over one lap to go. Beeton got into a slide exiting Turn 5 onto the straight, and Bedrin was able to dive down the inside and into the lead at Turn 6. That allowed Fairclough into the mix, and the Briton pulled off an audacious move on Beeton at the fast Turn 15 to take second.

There was drama behind too. Freddie Slater had risen from 10th on the grid to sixth by the safety car. He then passed Rodella with four laps to go before closing down Quintarelli. Slater forced the local driver to defend at the Turns 6/7 chicane just before the run to the finish line, and Quintarelli’s compromised momentum allowed Slater to pip him at the finish line for fourth. Rodella finished sixth.

The lower reaches of the top 10 were full of action. Rashid Al Dhaheri spun out of seventh place at Turn 12 on the restart lap after the safety car thanks to contact from team-mate Doriane Pin, for which the Frenchwoman was handed a 10-second penalty. That incident promoted fellow Emirati Keanu Al Azhari, who came to grief three laps later at the same spot when a collision with Kean Nakamura-Berta damaged his suspension and forced him to pull off the track. This all allowed F4 debutant Jules Caranta to take seventh place and Rookie class honours ahead of eighth-placed Nakamura-Berta (second Rookie). Gabriel Stilp was ninth, while Alex Powell took the final point in 10th and third place in the Rookie classification.


Race 3
Keanu Al Azhari doubled up on pole positions for this race, this time topping the second qualifying session by 0.273 seconds from Freddie Slater. But it was Slater who got the better getaway at the start so that he entered the first corner at Turn 9 on the inside of Al Azhari. The Dubai youngster ran wide and off the circuit, rejoined ahead of Slater, and was still in front when the safety car was called out for a collision at Turn 9: Maximiliano Restrepo and Everett Stack had come together, and the Colombian’s car was stranded in the runoff area and needed retrieval.

During the safety car, Al Azhari was ordered by the officials to hand the lead to Slater for his first-corner transgression, meaning the young Englishman was in front when the race went green again. Al Azhari did not give up and kept Slater on his toes for several laps before the leading margin grew to just over a second. Slater had stabilised the gap at 1.5 seconds when there was a late safety car, due to Kai Daryanani being stuck in the barrier at Turn 7. The field was released for the dash to the chequered flag, with Slater triumphing from Al Azhari.

Rashid Al Dhaheri made it two Emiratis on the podium. The Abu Dhabi talent lost out at the start to Nikita Bedrin, but Bedrin was clearly struggling for pace, and at one point this pair and Deagen Fairclough ran three-abreast in dramatic fashion at Turn 9, before Al Dhaheri and Fairclough both got ahead of the PHM AIX Racing car. Bedrin soon also lost out to battling Mumbai Falcons pair Kean Nakamura-Berta and Alex Powell, as well as Doriane Pin, although there was a collision between Bedrin and Powell at Turn 12. Nakamura-Berta eventually won this fight for fifth, behind fourth-placed Fairclough, and claimed the Rookie class. But a post-race five-second penalty for Powell dropped him out of the points, moving Pin up to sixth.

Bedrin was eventually classified seventh and was followed at the finish by Gabriel Stilp, but the Briton was given his second 10-second penalty of the weekend, this time for a collision with Dion Gowda at Turn 1 that forced the Indian out of the race. That moved Matteo Quintarelli up to eighth in the final classification, with another UAE talent, Yas Heat’s Zack Scoular, taking his first points of the campaign for ninth, and rounding out the top three Rookies behind Nakamura-Berta and Pin. Another driver in the points for the first time was Chinese-Taipei racer Enzo Yeh, 10th in his R-ace GP car.



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