Round Four Sets Stage for Sensational Dubai Title-Decider

Feb 13,2024
  • Frenchwoman Doriane Pin takes breakthrough first F4 UAE victory
  • Gabriel Stilp and Rashid Al Dhaheri take honours in tricky weather conditions
  • Keanu Al Azhari tops points despite collision with title rival Freddie Slater

United Arab Emirates, February 11, 2024: The Formula 4 UAE Championship (F4 UAE) is poised for a nail-biting title decider at Dubai Autodrome next weekend following a sensational fourth round at Yas Marina Circuit. Freddie Slater conceded his championship lead to Keanu Al Azhari, while Kean Nakamura-Berta also remains very much in contention. But none of them won this weekend in Abu Dhabi. Instead, the victories went the way of Doriane Pin, Gabriel Stilp and Rashid Al Dhaheri – the first time any of them had topped the F4 UAE podium.

The success for 20-year-old Mercedes F1-backed Frenchwoman Pin came after the chequered flag had fallen on the floodlit Saturday night race. After claiming pole position for Prema Racing, she lost the lead at the start to Nakamura-Berta, but the London-born Japanese-Slovakian Alpine F1 protégé was judged to have jumped the start in his Prema-run Mumbai Falcons Racing car. He held off Pin throughout, but the penalty he got for his premature getaway relegated Nakamura-Berta to fifth in the results. That allowed Emirati Al Dhaheri to step up to complete a Prema 1-2, with Jamaican-American Mercedes F1 junior Alex Powell in third for Mumbai Falcons.

Another talking point of this race was the collision just metres after the start between Slater and Al Azhari as they battled for third. The two title favourites were eliminated on the spot and, with the result determining the grid for race two, it also wrecked their chances in the second race, which took place in challenging wet conditions on Sunday morning.

This was the opportunity for Gabriel Stilp to show his wet-weather prowess. The 16-year-old forced his way up the order to deprive fellow Briton and Hitech Pulse-Eight team-mate Reza Seewooruthun of the lead and go on to victory, while R-ace GP’s Chinese Taipei talent Enzo Yeh completed the podium. Neither Slater nor Al Azhari could make it into the points, and Nakamura-Berta’s hopes of slashing the gap in the championship points were torpedoed by a puncture while he battled for sixth place.

Al Dhaheri then enjoyed glory at home on his local track in the final race, which was red-flagged early due to sudden rain with the field on slick tires, and restarted with most of the leading contenders still on dry-weather Giti rubber due to the weather easing off. The 15-year-old from Abu Dhabi held on in the face of a late attack from Dubai rival Al Azhari’s Yas Heat Racing Academy car. But, like Nakamura-Berta in race one, Al Azhari was hit with a post-race five-second penalty for jumping the start, and this elevated R-ace GP’s French Red Bull Junior Enzo Deligny to second place. Yet again Nakamura-Berta was out of luck, his car slowing while in second place and forced into retirement.

Slater, too, completed a trying weekend. An incident in qualifying left him 21st on the grid, and he was one of those to opt for wet-weather tires, eventually giving up the struggle in the pits. It means that Al Azhari has leapfrogged Slater to lead by 13 points going into the final round on his home ground in Dubai. PHM AIX Racing’s Nikita Bedrin, absent from the weekend due to FIA Formula 3 testing in Bahrain, retains third place in the standings, 27 points adrift of Al Azhari and one clear of Nakamura-Berta. With 75 points available in Dubai, there are two more drivers in mathematical contention for the crown: Al Dhaheri (45 off the summit) and Powell (61).

Rookie wins at Yas Marina went to Pin in the first race, and Seewooruthun in the other two. But despite his tough weekend, Nakamura-Berta retains a healthy advantage in the class, 44 points ahead of Powell and 56 clear of Pin.

The 2024 F4 UAE season concludes with a final triple-header at the Dubai Autodrome from February 16-18.

Race 1
Prema Racing talent Doriane Pin qualified on pole position for race one, the Mercedes F1 junior pipping Kean Nakamura-Berta by a tiny margin of 0.009 seconds. Freddie Slater and Keanu Al Azhari lined up on the second row, and it was this duo who would grab the attention at the start.

While Nakamura-Berta made a quicker getaway to grab the lead from Pin, Slater found Al Azhari trying to accelerate alongside him on the run from the grid. The two cars got too close and their wheels interlocked, with both hitting the barriers and eliminated from the race, causing a safety car period. Now Nakamura-Berta appeared to have a golden opportunity to surge into the championship lead, but Pin loomed large in his mirrors for six laps of racing following the restart. That was until Everett Stack and Maximiliano Restrepo collided at Turn 7, with Restrepo pitched onto two wheels and almost overturning. With Stack’s front wing in the middle of the track, the race was neutralised once again by the safety car.

There was time for three more laps of racing following the subsequent restart, and Nakamura-Berta made no mistakes to lead home Pin by 0.630 seconds. But after the race, Nakamura-Berta was adjudged to have jumped the start, was issued with a five-second penalty, and dropped to fifth. This gave victory to Pin, to add to her win in the F4 South East Asia series late last year at Sepang.

Rashid Al Dhaheri ran third on the road throughout, but Alex Powell in fourth place was closing at the finish. This pair were promoted to second and third with Nakamura-Berta’s penalty.

Powell had been fifth early on, and had a tentative stab at passing Enzo Deligny into the Turns 6/7 chicane. Deligny then ran wide exiting Turn 7, allowing Powell ahead and Dion Gowda to draft past him up the start-finish straight. Deligny then fought back and, with an audacious dive at Turn 6, he deprived Gowda of fifth place after the second restart. Deligny moved up to fourth when the penalty was handed to Nakamura-Berta, who was also demoted to third in the Rookie class behind Pin and Powell. Indian racer Gowda was sixth in his Mumbai Falcons car.

Hitech pair Gabriel Stilp and Reza Seewooruthun ran seventh and eighth early on. While Seewooruthun dropped to an eventual 11th place, Stilp retained his position, with Italian-Emirati Matteo Quintarelli racing home in eighth place. Quintarelli’s Saintéloc Racing team-mate, French youngster Jules Caranta, was ninth, with Scottish-Emirati Sebastian Murray (Hitech) completing the points scorers.

Race 2
Thanks to finishing 12th in the opening race, Enzo Yeh lined up on reversed-grid pole position on a soaking wet Yas Marina Circuit. Due to the rain making conditions slippery and visibility difficult, the race began under the safety car for four laps. It is to the credit of the 34 drivers that, once the green flags flew, they raced for eight laps to the finish with no further caution.

Straight away, Reza Seewooruthun got a run on Yeh once the field was released, and he sailed around the outside at Turn 9 and into the lead. Seewooruthun began to build up a handy margin at the front, before Yeh pegged it back a little. But then a new challenger arrived on the scene. Gabriel Stilp had started sixth, but passed Matteo Quintarelli and Jules Caranta for fourth on the first lap of racing. Next time around, he slipped ahead of Sebastian Murray to take third at Turn 16. Two laps later, he was up to second ahead of Yeh. Four laps remained, and Stilp was 1.5 seconds behind Seewooruthun.

The British Hitech Pulse-Eight pair are clearly used to such conditions after spending 2023 racing in their domestic climate, but Stilp’s greater F4 experience showed. Within a lap he was under Seewooruthun’s rear wing, and at Turn 16 on the 10th lap of 12 he firmly dived down the inside to wrest the lead away, before pulling clear to win by 4.831 seconds.

Yeh held on for third, while Quintarelli passed Murray on the eighth lap at Turn 9 on his way to fourth. Murray just held on to fifth, with Rashid Al Dhaheri – who had stormed up from 11th on the grid – almost overlapping with him at the finish.

Kean Nakamura-Berta should have been in this group, but during his battle with Caranta he sustained a puncture and retired to the pits, while Caranta plugged on with damage to his front wing. That meant Caranta was unable to prevent Alex Powell ambushing him for seventh – and third in the Rookie class behind Seewooruthun and Yeh – just two corners from the finish. Enzo Deligny emerged from this frantic battle in ninth, with Doriane Pin claiming the final point and a last-lap incident eliminating Dion Gowda and Yevan David from the fringes of the top 10. David was given a three-place grid penalty for the final race for the collision. From the very back of the grid, Keanu Al Azhari and Freddie Slater sliced their way up the order but were unrewarded with points. Al Azhari finished 12th, and set a mighty fastest lap, with Slater 14th.

Race 3
Just like Doriane Pin in first qualifying, Rashid Al Dhaheri put Prema Racing on top in the subsequent session to claim pole position for this race, with Kean Nakamura-Berta lining up his Mumbai Falcons machine in second. But there was drama for Freddie Slater – the championship leader made contact with the barrier, which meant he would start from the midfield in 21st position.

The track had almost dried out from the earlier rain by the time of the start. The field all took to the grid on slick tires, despite damp patches on the circuit. In contrast to a getaway that was too fast in race one, Nakamura-Berta was slow away this time, allowing an unchallenged Al Dhaheri to lead from Keanu Al Azhari and Enzo Deligny. It was still slippery in some places, and Raphaël Narac spun at Turn 16 onto the Formula 1 pit straight, got collected by Yevan David, and was stranded on the circuit. The safety car was called out, and then rain began to fall again. Now the race was red-flagged in order to allow everyone to change onto wet-weather tires.

No sooner had the rain started than it eased again, so the top five of Al Dhaheri, Al Azhari, Deligny, Nakamura-Berta and Gabriel Stilp all took the restart on slicks, with sixth-placed Alex Powell the highest-placed driver to opt for wets. Slater, too, was on grooved rubber after making it through to 15th place in one lap. But this proved to be the sub-optimal choice.

Stilp had already proved a master of tricky conditions in race two. Now he did so again at the restart. While Al Dhaheri continued to lead, Al Azhari ran wide at Turn 16, allowing Enzo Deligny a run onto the F1 pit straight. Deligny tried to go around the outside of Al Azhari at Turn 1, but he in turn ran wide and Nakamura-Berta slipped past both of them into second. Down at Turn 5, Stilp drove around the outside of Deligny to move up into fourth, and then slipstreamed Al Azhari down the straight into Turn 6 to grab third.

A lap later, the irrepressible Stilp got down the inside of Nakamura-Berta at Turn 6, and now he was second – from 11th on the grid. He then began to track leader Al Dhaheri, only for a lock-up from Stilp at Turn 5 to allow both Nakamura-Berta and Deligny to pass him. On the following straight, suddenly Nakamura-Berta was slowing and his desperately bad fortune continued as he retired to the pits. Now Deligny was second, but suddenly Al Dhaheri was almost two seconds in front.

By this stage Stilp had a damaged front wing, so it was Al Azhari who came back to the fore, swooping around the outside of Deligny at Turn 9 to snatch second place away. He then began closing the gap, but Al Dhaheri held firm. On the final tour, Al Azhari set a new fastest lap, but Al Dhaheri had enough in hand to take the chequered flag with a 0.410 seconds gap to his fellow Emirati. Then came the blow for Al Azhari, with a five-second penalty for jumping the start. Deligny, who finished third, therefore moved up to second in the results, with the Dubai racer dropping to third.

Stilp held on superbly with his damage for fourth in the face of attacks from Dion Gowda and Hitech-run Briton Deagen Fairclough. After making impressive progress from 20th on the grid, Fairclough seemed to have passed Gowda at Turn 9 on the ninth lap of 13, only for the Indian to hang on around the outside and retain the position.

Reza Seewooruthun appeared to have established himself in a strong seventh place and the Rookie lead when he ran off the track at Turn 16, allowing Luka Sammalisto to get past him. Enzo Yeh and Pin also joined this tremendous battle, only for Yeh to slip back when he made contact with Seewooruthun. Sammalisto held on to grab seventh on the road and temporary Rookie honours, but two time penalties totalling 20 seconds for gaining an advantage by running off track dropped him to 12th. Seewooruthun therefore moved up to seventh place ahead of Pin. Xcel Motorsport’s Mercedes F1 junior Cui Yuanpu also joined the party to celebrate Chinese New Year with his first F4 points in ninth place, and third Rookie behind Seewooruthun and Pin. Jules Caranta completed the top 10.