Wins for Bedrin and Powell as Championship Heads into Four-Way Title Fight

Published on Monday, February 5, 2024

Wins for Bedrin and Powell as Championship Heads into Four-Way Title Fight

United Arab Emirates: It was a dramatic first visit of 2024 to the Dubai Autodrome for the Formula 4 UAE Championship Certified by FIA (F4 UAE). Two race victories for Nikita Bedrin have propelled the PHM AIX Racing driver firmly into the championship hunt, in which Mumbai Falcons Racing’s Freddie Slater continues to narrowly lead. After a superb weekend that also included two pole positions, Bedrin is one of four drivers at the top of the table covered by 22 points – 25 are on offer for a race win – with two events comprising six races still to come.

The 18-year-old Bedrin, a podium finisher in FIA Formula 3 who races under the Italian flag, was superb in Dubai. His win in the opening race came in the face of pressure throughout from Kean Nakamura-Berta. The 16-year-old London-born Japanese-Slovakian, who is a protégé of the Alpine Formula 1 team, is from the opposite end of the experience scale to Bedrin, and only made his car racing debut in the F4 South East Asia series last November. But the Mumbai Falcons Racing-run Nakamura-Berta finished in a fine second place to kickstart his weekend in style, with his Indian team-mate Dion Gowda completing the podium.

Bedrin had to keep his focus even more in the final race, in which he came under constant attack from Dubai local Keanu Al Azhari. On numerous occasions, 16-year-old Al Azhari’s Yas Heat Racing Academy machine drew alongside Bedrin, and he once even briefly took the lead. But Al Azhari had to settle for second, while Nakamura-Berta won the fraught battle for third.

The reversed-grid second race provided Mumbai Falcons’ 16-year-old Jamaican-American Mercedes F1 junior Alex Powell with his first win in car racing. After some scintillating action on the opening lap promoted him from third to first, Powell held off the determined Al Azhari for victory, with Australian Jack Beeton notching up his second podium of the series for AGI Sport with third.

Fifteen-year-old championship leader Slater, another to represent the Prema-run Mumbai Falcons squad, entered the weekend with a 23-point advantage over Al Azhari and extended that in race one by defeating the Emirati to fourth position. He was fourth on the road again in the sequel, but a time penalty for running off track while defending a position dropped him to 10th, and narrowed the gap to eight points. Another fourth place in the finale means Slater now leads Al Azhari by just two points, with Bedrin 11 adrift and Nakamura-Berta 22 in arrears as they all prepare for another bout next weekend in Dubai. In the Rookie standings, Nakamura-Berta took two victories in Dubai to the one of Powell and has grown his margin to 64 points.

The championship next returns to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for Round 4 from February 9-11.

 

Race 1

Nikita Bedrin claimed pole position, and it was Kean Nakamura-Berta who emerged to sit alongside him on the front row. Championship leader Freddie Slater lined up third, but Rashid Al Dhaheri’s fourth spot on the grid came to nothing due to drama at the start. The Abu Dhabi racer appeared to make a decent getaway, but his car then lost momentum. The unfortunate Deagen Fairclough was left with nowhere to go and ran into Al Dhaheri, while the equally unlucky Matteo Quintarelli was caught up in the incident too. Fairclough got around to the pits to retire, but Al Dhaheri and Quintarelli were out on the spot, and the safety car was required to clear up the stricken cars.

Bedrin made a good restart, but Nakamura-Berta went with him. While the duo stayed close for the entirety of the race, it was going to take a mistake on the leader’s part for a challenge to be made, and Bedrin drove perfectly. He crossed the finish line 0.600 seconds in front to take his second F4 UAE victory of the season, and his fourth in total.

Dion Gowda had made a good start to the race to get in front of Slater for third. Then, at the restart, Slater lost a further position when the impressive Zack Scoular pulled off an excellent move to snatch fourth around the outside into Turn 1. Slater immediately fought back, then grabbed the position back after some side-by-side action through Turns 10 to 12. This had allowed Gowda to get away, but Slater set to work, chipped away at the gap, and was close at the finish to complete a Mumbai Falcons 2-3-4.

Keanu Al Azhari had qualified ninth but drove a fine race, getting past Scoular on the second lap after the restart to finish a comfortable fifth. Yas Heat-run Emirati Scoular then fell into the clutches of a heated battle between Jack Beeton, Tiago Rodrigues, and Doriane Pin. On the penultimate lap, Scoular sustained a puncture that put him out of the race on the final tour, while Rodrigues damaged his wing. This allowed Beeton to finish sixth ahead of the Prema Racing car of French Mercedes F1 junior Pin. Macau racer Rodrigues, the reigning Chinese F4 champion making a big step forward this weekend with Xcel Motorsport, nursed his damaged car home in eighth.

There was another epic fight behind, from which Briton Gabriel Stilp (Hitech Pulse-Eight) claimed ninth place, with Enzo Yeh finishing 10th, but the Chinese-Taipei racer was given a 10-second penalty for an off-track pass on Alvise Rodella and dropped to 23rd. Remarkably, Alex Powell fought through from 32nd on the grid after problems in qualifying to take 10th and also completed the Rookie top three behind Nakamura-Berta and Pin. Just behind Powell, Enzo Deligny recovered from contact with Pin on the opening lap that removed his front wing. After having it replaced during the safety car, the Red Bull Junior charged through to 11th on his F4 SEA debut, while 12th-placed Rodella inherited reversed-grid pole position thanks to Yeh’s penalty.

 

Race 2

Alvise Rodella had a golden opportunity from pole position to claim a top result for Xcel Motorsport, but when the lights went out the Italian failed to get off the starting line. Remarkably, the rest of the 33-car field somehow managed to avoid the stranded machine. Alex Powell started directly behind Rodella and had to jink around him, so Gabriel Stilp launched from fourth to second off the grid and even drew alongside front-row starter Enzo Deligny into Turn 1, but the Frenchman held on.

Stilp’s attempts to pass the R-ace GP car of Deligny for the lead on the opening lap culminated at Turn 14, when his dive inside resulted in contact that gave Deligny a puncture and bent the right-front wing on Stilp’s car, allowing Powell to pass both of them to move in front. Keanu Al Azhari, from eighth on the grid, then somehow divebombed Stilp and Tiago Rodrigues into Turn 1 on the second lap to move into the runner-up position.

The dogged attempts by Stilp to defend third place with his damaged wing led to an enormous train of warring drivers in his wake. It also allowed Powell and Al Azhari to escape at the head of the field. Jack Beeton emerged in third place by coming out on top against Stilp and Rodrigues on lap three, and Freddie Slater quickly followed him through into fourth, but by this stage they were a considerable distance behind the leading duo. However, the serene progress of Powell and Al Azhari was disrupted by the appearance of the safety car on the seventh lap owing to a collision at Turn 16 between Everett Stack and Fu Yuhao.

In the meantime, Stilp’s time in the leading positions had come to an end when his fight with Yevan David for sixth ended with further damage to his front wing, and in the chain reaction his Hitech Pulse-Eight team-mate Reza Seewooruthun, who had run strongly as high as eighth, was launched over the rear of Nikita Bedrin and into the run-off area at Turn 1. One lap later, at the same spot, David’s bid to hold off Bedrin for seventh ended with him sailing off the road with a puncture.

There was time for three more laps of racing once the cars of Stack and Fu had been cleared away, and Powell, Al Azhari, and Beeton had little trouble in the top three positions. It wasn’t the same story for Slater, who was unlucky enough to have a lapped car between himself and Beeton at the restart. That left him vulnerable to attack from Rodrigues, and Slater briefly went airborne but succeeded in retaining his fourth spot – but in doing so he ran off track and was penalised five seconds after the race. While Rodrigues was elbowed down the order, Dion Gowda came through for fifth, which became fourth with Slater’s penalty. Behind the Indian, Nikita Bedrin won an intense battle with Kean Nakamura-Berta for fifth.

Prema-run Abu Dhabi driver Rashid Al Dhaheri, after his first-race retirement consigned him to 32nd place on the grid, fought spectacularly through to a final position of seventh, while Finn Luka Sammalisto (R-ace GP) claimed his first points with eighth, and third of the Rookies behind Powell and Nakamura-Berta. Enzo Yeh ended up ninth in his R-ace GP car, with Slater’s penalty giving him a final position of 10th.

 

Race 3

Just as he had done in the first qualifying run, Nikita Bedrin headed the second session to take pole position for the final race, while Keanu Al Azhari did much better this time to take the other slot on the front row. And the race for victory was all about this pair, in between three interludes for the safety car.

Bedrin got away nicely to lead at the start, only for a multi-car tangle at Turn 1 to end with Alvise Rodella’s machine stranded in the run-off area. The Italian was adjudged to be at fault for the incident, which also eliminated Reza Seewooruthun, and was given a three-place grid penalty for the next race. The incident triggered the first caution period, with a quick clear-up allowing the field to be released after just one lap. Straight away Al Azhari was on the attack. He drew alongside Bedrin into Turn 10, but the PHM AIX Racing man rebuffed the challenge. Onto the next lap, Al Azhari made his bid around the outside at Turn 1, and the Yas Heat car got in front – but only by running off the track. Sportingly, Al Azhari immediately handed the position back, and made another vain attempt to pass Bedrin at Turn 10.

Soon the safety car was out again, thanks to Matteo Quintarelli’s car being stuck on the outside of Turn 15 following a collision. At the green, once more Al Azhari continued probing, continually pulling alongside Bedrin over the next few laps, but the leader made no mistakes. Just when Bedrin appeared to have done everything he needed to, the safety car made its third appearance on what was going to be the final lap anyway, and he took his second victory of the weekend under caution.

The fight behind was epic. From sixth on the grid, Hitech-run Briton Deagen Fairclough out-braked Kean Nakamura-Berta, Freddie Slater, and Rashid Al Dhaheri into Turn 1 at the start to brilliantly gain three places in one move and move into third. Al Dhaheri ran fourth but was under attack from Slater after the first restart. One lap later, Slater tried a manoeuvre into Turn 1 but ran wide and had to take to the escape route before rejoining, now down in seventh. Al Dhaheri was also delayed, and Nakamura-Berta moved up into fourth.

Fairclough hung on in the face of ferocious attacks from Nakamura-Berta for several laps until finally, on the 12th lap of 14, the Mumbai Falcons driver got the job done at Turn 1. Slater was now up to fifth after passing Zack Scoular and Tiago Rodrigues, and he moved in to challenge Fairclough on the penultimate lap. Slater got a good run down to the long left-hander of Turn 14 and looked like he had momentum to hang on around the outside of Fairclough. But Rodrigues got the slipstream from both, went for the inside line, ran out of room, launched over the kerb, and landed atop Fairclough. That eliminated both of them and triggered the final safety car. Rodrigues was handed a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Dubai.

Slater finished fourth, while a late exit for Al Dhaheri with front-wing damage meant it was Scoular who claimed fifth. Enzo Deligny completed his F4 UAE debut weekend with his first points in sixth, and fellow Frenchman Jules Caranta (Saintéloc Racing) passed Alex Powell late on to finish seventh overall and third Rookie, behind Nakamura-Berta and Scoular. Fairclough’s incident with Rodrigues promoted his Hitech Pulse-Eight team-mates Gabriel Stilp and Sebastian Murray into the final two positions in the top 10, with Scottish-Emirati Murray scoring his first point in the series.

 

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