Ugo Ugochukwu Tops Leaderboard after Sensational Formula 4 UAE Season-opener
- McLaren protégé takes two victories in Dubai triple-header with Prema Racing
- Red Bull Junior Arvid Lindblad wins maiden F4 win in Race 3 with Hitech Grand Prix
- Record 39-car field opens electrifying 2023 season
Dubai, January 14, 2023: Ugo Ugochukwu is the early leader in the Formula 4 United Arab Emirates Championship certified by FIA following two superb wins from the opening trio of races at the Dubai Autodrome. The tall 15-year-old American, driving for Prema Racing, proved the class of an immense 39-car field brimful of talent from all around the world.
Ugochukwu, who is a protégé of Formula 1 team McLaren, led the first race all the way from pole position ahead of Red Bull Junior Arvid Lindblad. But the Hitech Grand Prix-run British driver was penalised five seconds for a false start. This promoted Italian Valerio Rinicella (MP Motorsport) to second and hard-charging Australian James Wharton (Mumbai Falcons) to third. Lindblad’s penalty relegated him to eighth, but it was still sufficient to narrowly claim Rookie Cup honours.
Once again it was Ugochukwu on top in race two, thanks mainly to a beautiful start from third on the grid that allowed him to launch around the outside of Mumbai Falcons’ Ferrari Driver Academy talent Tuukka Taponen at Turn 1. Taponen kept Ugochukwu in his sights and the Finn scored the Rookie Cup win, with Lindblad moving up to finish third.
Lindblad, who only celebrated his 15th birthday in August 2022, claimed his maiden pole position in car racing in qualifying for the third race, and used that as the launchpad for his breakthrough victory. In a race that was much interrupted by the safety car, Lindblad held firm to defeat Taponen and Ugochukwu. It means that heading into the second round at Kuwait Motor Town, Ugochukwu leads the standings by 21 points from Lindblad, with Taponen a further six behind and everything still to play for.
Race 1 winner: Ugo Ugochukwu / Prema Racing
“I got off to a pretty good start off the line. I came under a lot of pressure at the beginning and I knew I had to not make any mistakes. I managed to pull through the first couple of laps and create a bit of a gap. The safety car made it a bit trickier, but I managed to get a good restart from there. I’m super pleased to take the win and I’d like to thank everyone at Prema who have been working hard these past few days to get ready for the race.”
Race 2 winner: Ugo Ugochukwu / Prema Racing
“I’m super happy. Starting from P3, I got a good start again and I decided to go round the outside of T1 and managed to make it stick. I took the lead and from there I was just managing the pace and trying to pull away a bit. Another safety car today made things interesting but I managed to make no mistakes got a good safety car restart and just brought it home.
Race 3 winner: Arvid Lindblad / Hitech Grand Prix
“I’m really happy to win very early on in the season. The first safety car almost helped me out a little as Tuukka (Taponen) was really on me so that was quite good. After that I got a good restart and was able to build a gap before the second safety car came out.”
A last-lap improvement in qualifying vaulted Ugo Ugochukwu onto pole position, and he made the most of that to lead the race all the way and take victory. He didn’t have it easy though. Arvid Lindblad was the driver Ugochukwu had deposed in qualifying, and he gave chase throughout the race. After a safety car period there was a one-lap sprint to the finish, and Lindblad finished just 0.561 seconds behind Ugochukwu at the chequered flag, but unfortunately he was given a five-second penalty for a false start. The late compression of the field due to the safety car meant this relegated Lindblad to eighth.
Up into second position came Valerio Rinicella. The Italian made a nice move on Tuukka Taponen on the opening lap to move into third, and spent much of the race shadowed by his MP Motorsport team-mate Kirill Smal. Then the safety car brought James Wharton into play. Wharton had struggled with traffic in qualifying to place 10th on the grid, but drove a superb race up the order. On the final lap he speared down the inside of Smal at Turn 10, and Smal’s bid to fight back cost him further positions to German Valentin Kluss (PHM Racing) and Italian Brando Badoer (Pinnacle VAR). Lindblad’s penalty then promoted Wharton to the podium.
Another driver on the move was Frenchman Théophile Naël. The Saintéloc Racing contender lined up 20th, but charged up the order. He was on the heels of Taponen at the late safety car restart, and spent much of the final lap side by side with the Finn before finishing what became seventh with Lindblad’s penalty. Mexico’s Jesse Carrasquedo (R-ace GP) completed the top 10.
Lindblad nevertheless pipped Taponen to honours in the Rookie Cup on corrected time by a mere 0.041s, with Keanu Al Azhari third. The safety car was caused by a tangle between Roberto Lacorte and Flavio Olivieri that left both cars stranded on the circuit.
With grid decided on fastest laps from race one, Tuukka Taponen lined up on pole position with Brando Badoer alongside, but neither of them could stop the remarkable Ugo Ugochukwu, who burst through from third on the grid, and sailed around the outside of Taponen at Turn 1 to take the lead. This time Taponen kept Ugochukwu in sight, and he was given an opportunity to close up thanks to a safety car to recover the damaged machine of Jakob Bergmeister. The race went green with time for four more laps of racing, but Ugochukwu held firm to defeat Taponen.
Third position changed hands on the first lap after the restart following the safety car. Arvid Lindblad had been pressuring Kirill Smal throughout the race, and the young Briton finally made his move at Turn 10 to get in front. By doing so, he completed a 1-2-3 of F1 juniors: McLaren (Ugochukwu), Ferrari (Taponen), Red Bull (Lindblad). Badoer, meanwhile, had dropped back to sixth in the early going, but the son of ex-Formula 1 racer Luca Badoer claimed fifth from Valerio Rinicella on the ninth lap of 11 with a nice move at Turn 1.
Noah Strømsted clung on to the drivers in front to finish seventh, while behind the Danish PHM Racing driver was an astonishing battle of over 15 cars. Will Macintyre held eighth going into the final lap, but lost out amid the frantic jousting, allowing R-ace GP’s Zachary David through to grab the position, with Valentin Kluss and Carlin-run Indian Dion Gowda completing the top 10. Among this group was James Wharton, who stalled at the start from fourth on the grid, and clawed his way back to 17th place. David also completed the rookie podium, behind Taponen and Lindblad.
Arvid Lindblad may have only made his debut in car racing in September 2022, but it didn’t look like it – he controlled this race from the start until its finish under the safety car.
Tuukka Taponen started alongside Lindblad, and the Finn converted that to second place, while once again Ugo Ugochukwu improved his position at the start – the American rose from fourth to third, which is where he finished. As he did in race one, James Wharton made strong early progress to rise from seventh to fourth, only for his chances of further progress to be hampered by the safety car.
The first race neutralisation happened on the second lap to recover the stranded car of Bianca Bustamante. When it went green, the top quartet held station, but there was frenetic battling for fifth. This culminated in Jesse Carrasquedo locking up into Turns 13 and 14, Valerio Rinicella having to slow up, and Kirill Smal inadvertently tapping the Italian out of contention.
Somehow Carrasquedo held on to fifth, with the Mexican chased by Brando Badoer, Théophile Naël, Australian James Piszcyk (Hitech GP), Smal and Zachary David when the safety car appeared again. This was due to the car of Federico Rifai crashing into the wall and Alexander Bolduev also being off-track.
Lindblad therefore led the field to the chequered flag, also claiming Rookie Cup honours from Taponen and David.
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