Championship Thrills on Historic Kuwait Debut

Jan 29,2023

  • Ugo Ugochukwu maintains championship lead after eventful triple-header
  • First-ever single seater race in Kuwait won by James Wharton
  • Zachary David takes debut F4 race win in final race

Kuwait, January 28, 2023: McLaren Formula 1 protégé Ugo Ugochukwu continues to lead the Formula 4 United Arab Emirates Championship Certified by FIA (F4 UAE) after notching up his third victory of the campaign in the second round at the superb new Kuwait Motor Town facility. But the 15-year-old American, run by Prema Racing, didn’t have it all his own way among the 38-car field, and he picked up his first non-score of the campaign. Indeed, Ugochukwu, who won the weekend’s second race, was outscored over the event by James Wharton and Valerio Rinicella.

Australian Wharton, a Ferrari Driver Academy recruit, took victory in the opening race for Mumbai Falcons Racing – the country’s first-ever single seater race - while MP Motorsport’s consistent Italian Rinicella claimed the weekend’s biggest points haul, even though he is still awaiting his first win. The other winner was Maltese-Filipino Zachary David, another 15-year-old, who showed great composure in the weekend’s final race to guide his R-ace GP entry to his first victory in cars.

The 16-year-old Wharton qualified third for the opening race, but used the slipstream from the long blast through Turn 1 and down to Turn 2 to claim the lead. Rinicella gave chase, but eventually had to turn his attentions to successfully fending off Ugochukwu for second. Hitech Grand Prix’s Red Bull Junior Arvid Lindblad claimed Rookie Cup honours in fifth place.

Ugochukwu really had to work hard for his win in race two early on Saturday morning. Wharton had fought his way past Ferrari and Mumbai Falcons stablemate Tuukka Taponen for second place, and then closed on the American in front. Wharton grabbed the lead on the eighth lap of 10, but Ugochukwu immediately retaliated and held on for victory. Finnish racer Taponen, in third place, was the Rookie Cup winner.

Contact among the leading quartet on the opening lap of race three eliminated Taponen, delayed Ugochukwu and Wharton, and cost Rinicella a few positions. Remarkably, Noah Lisle led from seventh on the grid, but the Australian could not fend off David, who went on to claim a comfortable victory, not only overall but also in the Rookie Cup. Rinicella recovered to third, and was promoted post-race when second-placed Théophile Naël earned a penalty, with Xcel Motorsport driver Lisle claiming the final podium position. It all means that Ugochukwu now leads Rinicella by 31 points and Wharton by 35, with just a couple of days of rest before qualifying and three more races at Kuwait Motor Town!

Driver quotes:

Race 1 winner: James Wharton/Mumbai Falcons

“It’s amazing to finally get a first win. I would have liked it a couple of weeks ago in Dubai, but I finally got it done. Now it’s time to fight for the championship and get some more wins. I think KMT is a really unique facility. It’s crazy good. There are so many fast, flowing corners which is great for us, especially when we’re going so fast every corner it’s good battles. It’s amazing to be here.”

Race 2 winner: Ugo Ugochukwu/Prema Racing

“It was such a difficult race. At the start, it’s a long straight so everybody behind you has a slipstream so I had to defend into T1, but then we got the red flag so another safety car restart and I had to do it all again. I managed to keep the lead and then had James [Wharton] behind me who was really quick. He managed to overtake me. I did a great move into T15 and managed to get him back. And then from there on I was pushing as hard as possible as I knew I had to get a really good gap before getting on the straight because then he’d close back in with the slipstream. So super happy to get that win and can’t thank the team enough.”

Race 3 winner: Zachary David/R-Ace GP

“At the start, the Prema [cars] which were starting first, second and third, and all took each other out. It was a good thing we were able to capitalize on that. Then after that we just kept our heads down after each safety car restart and we were able to get the win. With the pace we’ve had all weekend I was expecting to be on the podium, but a race win was something unexpected honestly.”

Race 1

Valerio Rinicella earned himself the honour of becoming the pole position qualifier for the first-ever single-seater race at Kuwait Motor Town, and he made a good start. But the long drag through Turn 1 and down to Turn 2 enabled James Wharton, from third on the grid, to take the slipstream from front-row men Rinicella and Ugo Ugochukwu and spear into the lead.

It didn’t take long for the first safety car interlude, and this was soon converted to a red flag. Alexander Abkhazava and Georgy Zhuravskiy had come to grief in one collision and were stranded by the track, while Léna Bühler was also out of the race. After the restart, Rinicella put massive pressure on Wharton. They ran side by side on the run to Turn 2, and on the following lap Wharton had to defend sternly to repel Rinicella’s advances.

Once he had done that, Wharton pulled out a small margin at the front, and instead Rinicella had to see off the attentions of Ugochukwu. The second-place battle got very close over the closing stages, and on the final lap Ugochukwu locked his brakes as he attempted a last-ditch move on Rinicella into Turn 2. But Rinicella held on to the position, crossing the line 1.098 seconds adrift of the victorious Wharton.

From eighth and 10th on the grid respectively, Frenchman Théophile Naël and Briton Arvid Lindblad made fantastic progress on the opening lap to move up to fourth and fifth. While Naël had a largely lonely race to fourth position in his Saintéloc Racing car, Lindblad found himself briefly in a frantic battle with Tuukka Taponen and Japanese Kanato Le (Hitech Pulse-Eight). Lindblad then made the place his own, while the other pair swapped positions several times before Taponen got through for sixth on the penultimate lap. This trio also fought for Rookie Cup honours, with Lindblad earning the verdict.

Dane Noah Strømsted was not far behind in eighth, with his German PHM Racing team-mate Valentin Kluss in ninth and Noah Lisle getting the best out of the battle for 10th.

Race 2

Ugo Ugochukwu earned pole position for this one by setting the fastest lap in the opening race, and he managed to defend the inside line down to Turn 2 after the start to maintain his advantage from Tuukka Taponen and James Wharton. Unfortunately, a startline crash, when Jakob Bergmeister was unsighted and ran into the car of Kanato Le, caused another red flag.

Once the race had restarted, Wharton took just over a lap before finding a way past Taponen for second place on the run to Turn 2. He then set off after Ugochukwu and with three laps to go the leading duo were together. Somehow Wharton managed to wriggle past and into the lead in the S-bends in the middle sector, yet Ugochukwu immediately fought back and sliced his way back in front into Turn 18 in a thrilling battle. Ugochukwu then managed to remain in front to the finish, ahead of Wharton, Taponen and fourth-placed Valerio Rinicella.

Zachary David bounced back from a difficult qualifying session to line up sixth for this race, and he emerged from an early battle with Arvid Lindblad and Théophile Naël to run in fifth position. Like Rinicella, he shadowed the leading trio to the finish.

Lindblad was forced into the pits for repairs, while Naël lost positions to Noah Strømsted and Valentin Kluss, who finished sixth and seventh respectively. Naël was eighth on the road, but a 10-second penalty for running off track and rejoining unsafely dropped him to 15th. This moved Emirati Keanu Al Azhari (Yas Heat Racing Academy), battling Briton Will Macintyre (Hitech Grand Prix) and another Emirati, Xcel Motorsport’s Federico Rifai, up to the final positions in the top 10. Taponen was the Rookie Cup winner, from David and Al Azhari.

Race 3

Drama on the first lap removed all of the top four on the grid from contention in the weekend finale. James Wharton was on pole position with Ugo Ugochukwu alongside, and it was Valerio Rinicella and Tuukka Taponen on the second row. Wharton and Ugochukwu attempted to go side by side at Turn 2, but there was contact among the leading quartet and the end result was this duo plummeting down the field, Rinicella dropping to sixth and Taponen out of the race, with the safety car required to recover his machine.

Remarkably, Noah Lisle emerged in the lead from seventh on the grid ahead of Zachary David. When the race restarted, David got in front of Lisle on the first lap of green-flag racing. But once again the race was neutralised, this time after Bianca Bustamante was launched over the car of Léna Bühler as they battled at Turn 18. While Bühler recovered to the pits, Bustamante’s stricken car needed retrieving.

Four laps of racing awaited the field as the green flags flew once again. Lisle tried to repass David for the lead at the restart, before David began to stretch his advantage. Now it was Lisle under pressure. On the penultimate lap, Théophile Naël was unperturbed by Lisle forcing him to the inside as they raced down to Turn 2, the Frenchman squeezing through into second place with four wheels off the track. On the final lap, the recovering Rinicella slipstreamed past Lisle for third on the straight after Turn 1. Immediately after the finish, Naël was given a five-second penalty for his move on Lisle, dropping him to eighth in the results and promoting Rinicella to a fine second.

Nael’s penalty lifted Valentin Kluss up to fourth, an excellent result from 16th on the grid and reward for forcing his way past Federico Rifai, who was classified fifth. Up to sixth came R-ace GP’s Mexican youngster Jesse Carrasquedo and into seventh was Arvid Lindblad, who raced through from a starting position of 18th following a three-place grid penalty for an unsafe manoeuvre in the pitlane. Lindblad also completed the Rookie Cup top three behind overall winner David and Rifai. Behind the penalised Naël, the top 10 was rounded out by Kanato Le and Keanu Al Azhari.