Slater Strengthens Championship Lead while Al Azhari Shines

Jan 22,2024
  • Freddie Slater extends championship lead with race one victory
  • Keanu Al Azhari stars with double win at Yas Marina
  • Kean Nakamura-Berta extends impressive Rookie form

Abu Dhabi, January 22, 2024: Freddie Slater and Keanu Al Azhari were the stars of the second round of the Formula 4 UAE Championship Certified by FIA (F4 UAE) at the Yas Marina Circuit. While Al Azhari secured two wins on the full 5.281km Grand Prix layout, it was Slater who romped to victory in the opener and took the biggest points haul across the three races to extend his championship lead.

The 15-year-old Briton, driving for the Prema-run Mumbai Falcons Racing battalion, wrestled the lead away from team-mate Alex Powell just after the restart following an early safety car and then comfortably claimed his second win of the 2024 F4 UAE campaign. Slater followed this up with a strong drive from 12th on the reversed grid to finish third in a floodlit second race that started in dusk and finished at night. Then, in similar dusk-to-night conditions on Sunday, he tracked winner Al Azhari throughout the final race.

Yas Heat Racing Academy star Al Azhari took advantage of a first-lap mistake from Mumbai Falcons Racing’s Kean Nakamura-Berta to grab the lead of the second race. The 16-year-old from Dubai then made no mistake in the finale, timing his restarts to perfection to minimise any chance of attack from Slater. However, Al Azhari had enjoyed a slice of fortune. Both he and Nakamura-Berta had come to grief on the opening lap of race one and were forced to pit for repairs. The safety car periods allowed them to catch the pack and put them in the mix for the reversed grid, and both did superbly to climb into the coveted top 12 positions, with Al Azhari the best-placed in 10th. That performance proved crucial to setting up the first of his two wins over the weekend.

Jamaican-American Mercedes Formula 1 protégé Powell took a landmark maiden pole position in car racing for the opening race and claimed second place, with Mumbai Falcons team-mate and Alpine F1 junior Nakamura-Berta grabbing that position in the sequel. Nakamura-Berta added another podium, the London-born Japanese-Slovakian finishing third in the finale.

Slater now leads Al Azhari by 23 points in the overall standings as F4 UAE takes a week off before reconvening with two rounds at Dubai Autodrome, starting on February 2-4. Nakamura-Berta lies in third place in the championship, 38 points adrift of Slater. He also leads the Rookie classification – Nakamura-Berta took two wins in the class over the weekend, with Powell grabbing the other.

Race 1
Freddie Slater looked to have grabbed pole position for this race. He had sat at the top of the times in the first qualifying session for the last few minutes before the chequered flag. But little did anyone realise that Alex Powell had just started a monster lap as the time ran out. He was one of the last across the line, and snatched pole from his Mumbai Falcons team-mate.
Powell converted that pole into the race lead at the start. But before the end of the first lap, there was a safety car intervention due to Enzo Yeh’s car being stranded at Turn 12 after contact with Deagen Fairclough. Powell kept the advantage at the restart, but over the next lap he had Slater and PHM AIX Racing’s Nikita Bedrin swarming around behind him. Over the start-finish line they flashed, and Slater made a bid for the inside at Turn 9 and took the lead away.

There was another safety car period a few laps later. Luka Sammalisto had been running nicely in 10th place on only his second weekend in car racing, under severe pressure from Zack Scoular, but the Finn hit problems and parked in the run-off at Turn 9. There was time for five more laps of racing following the restart, and Slater never really came under pressure as he extended his
advantage to win by 2.335 seconds over Powell, with Bedrin in third.

Drama on the opening lap had sent Keanu Al Azhari and Kean Nakamura-Berta to the pits, with Doriane Pin now holding fourth from Rashid Al Dhaheri. Prema Racing’s French ace Pin, newly announced on the Mercedes F1 junior programme, was demoted from the position by team-mate Al Dhaheri immediately after the first restart, and this duo finished fourth and fifth, with the Emirati in front. Behind them, there was an all-Hitech Pulse-Eight battle for sixth, with Gabriel Stilp hanging on from fellow Briton Fairclough, who had sliced through from 12th on the grid. But a 10-second penalty handed to Fairclough for his part in Yeh’s exit relegated him to 13th.

Fairclough had just escaped from a frantic battle on the opening lap after the first safety car. This dispute ended with Jules Caranta, Alvise Rodella and Tiago Rodrigues having an incident at Turns 6 and 7 that involved Rodella going up onto two wheels, and all dropping out of contention. It meant that Italian-Emirati Matteo Quintarelli came through for seventh in his Saintéloc Racing car, with R-ace GP-run Frenchman Raphaël Narac eighth.

Behind, Emirates racer Scoular (Yas Heat) ended off a frantic pack, which included the charging Al Azhari and Nakamura-Berta after their pit stops. Scoular did a fine job to hang on for ninth, completing the Rookie top three behind Powell and Pin. Al Azhari got past Indian Dion Gowda (Mumbai Falcons) on the final lap for 10th, while Nakamura-Berta was classified 12th after Fairclough’s penalty, elevating him to pole position for the reversed-grid race.

Race 2

Kean Nakamura-Berta used his pole position to shoot into the lead at the start, while Keanu Al Azhari drew level with front-row starter Dion Gowda – who was feeling unwell this weekend – into the opening corner of Turn 9 and moved into second place. When Nakamura-Berta ran wide at Turn 16, Al Azhari now moved into the lead.

When the field got around to the Turns 6/7 chicane at the end of the lap, Zack Scoular pulled off a fine move on Gowda to move up to third. Gabriel Stilp also joined their battle and quickly got ahead of Gowda into fourth, but behind them there had been a collision at the chicane. Peter Bouzinelos and Tiago Rodrigues were stranded, tangled together on the circuit, while Everett Stack also abandoned ship slightly further up the road. Later, Cui Yuanpu was given a five-second penalty for the collision with Bouzinelos that triggered the incident, which led to a safety car.

From the restart, Al Azhari had to drive the remaining 10 laps with Nakamura-Berta constantly shadowing him, but never in a position to make a big move for the lead. On the final lap, a small mistake sent Nakamura-Berta wide at Turn 16 and enlarged Al Azhari’s advantage, and he was victorious by 1.326 seconds. But there was plenty of action behind.

Championship leader Freddie Slater started 12th, but was already up to eighth by the safety car intervention. On the first lap after the restart, the frenetic fight for fifth ended with Gowda, Matteo Quintarelli and Doriane Pin all heading for the pits with damage, and Slater was now sixth. Next time around he passed Scoular for fifth. Ahead of him, Rashid Al Dhaheri was pressuring Stilp for third. The Emirati’s bid to go around the outside of Turn 6 and claim the inside for Turn 7 cost him momentum, and Slater surged past Al Dhaheri on the following straight. Less than a lap later, Slater’s perfect exit from Turn 5 allowed him to slipstream Stilp on the main straight, and now he was third.

Stilp immediately lost out to Al Dhaheri and Alex Powell, and Nikita Bedrin not long after. Bedrin was another on a charge, passing Powell with three laps to go and then closing up to finish right on the tail of fourth-placed Al Dhaheri. Powell was sixth ahead of Stilp, with Scoular eighth to complete the Rookie top three behind Nakamura-Berta and Powell. Indian Kai Daryanani clung on to score his first F4 UAE points, ninth in his Pinnacle Motorsport car, and Xcel Motorsport’s Italian talent Alvise Rodella claimed the final point for 10th after carving through from 23rd on the grid.

Race 3
Keanu Al Azhari got back in the habit of topping qualifying, making it three out of four by pipping early pacesetter Nikita Bedrin by 0.090 seconds, and he had little trouble putting the race to bed to make it two consecutive wins.

Al Azhari got away nicely at the start, while Freddie Slater, from third on the grid, went around the outside of Bedrin at Turn 9 to move instantly into second place. But a midfield tangle at Turn 6 between Dion Gowda, Jack Beeton and Sebastian Murray triggered the first safety car – while Murray continued, the cars of Gowda and Beeton were stranded on the track. Murray was adjudged to be at blame, earning himself a five-place grid penalty for the next race in Dubai. The race had not long restarted when, for the second time this weekend, the unfortunate Kamal Mrad lost a potential top 10 finish. The Australian was defending 10th place from Alvise Rodella when they made contact at Turn 5, plunging Mrad into the barrier and also forcing Rodella out – as well as triggering a second outing for the safety car. Rodella was issued with a three-place grid penalty for Dubai.

There still appeared to be time for a few more laps of racing once the green flags flew, with Al Azhari leading away again. Slater came under massive attack from Bedrin and Kean Nakamura-Berta, yet somehow wriggled free to consolidate second. Nakamura-Berta passed Bedrin through Turns 12 and 13 to take third, and now Bedrin came under attack from Deagen Fairclough. Into Turn 5, Fairclough took a dive to grab fourth, but Bedrin fought back on the main straight. They headed side by side into Turn 6, and Fairclough’s bid to sneak up the inside of Turn 7 was scuppered when Bedrin turned in, forcing Fairclough to short-cut the corner and move in front. Unfortunately, any ideas Fairclough might have had to concede the place back to Bedrin were dashed by the fact that Gabriel Stilp and Doriane Pin also immediately got ahead of the PHM car.

Another incident at Turn 6 involved Murray again, this time with Maximiliano Restrepo and Fu Yuhao. With Restrepo and Yu nestling in the barriers, and Murray stuck on track, the safety car emerged for the third and final time. This time Fu was held responsible, earning a five-place grid penalty for Dubai. Al Azhari took the chequered flag under caution from Slater, Nakamura-Berta, Fairclough, Stilp, Pin and Bedrin. In eighth place, and completing the top three Rookies behind Nakamura-Berta and Pin, was French youngster Jules Caranta (R-ace GP), who got ahead of Zack Scoular at the second restart. Scoular finished ninth, while R-ace GP’s Chinese Taipei racer Enzo Yeh rebounded after a tough first two races to claim the final point.

Bad luck eliminated leading contenders Rashid Al Dhaheri and Alex Powell before the race properly got going. Al Dhaheri had to start from the pits due to an issue, and Powell failed to get off the line at the start, and neither was able to make much progress during the interrupted race once they got going.