NEW FIRST-TIME F4UAE WINNER EMERGES IN DUBAI AS CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT STRENGTHENS
Dubai, UAE, February 17, 2019 – Xcel Motorsport’s Tijmen van der Helm became the fifth different race winner in the 2019 F4UAE Championship powered by Abarth, taking victory at Round 3 this past weekend in Dubai as the points gap tightened between the title contenders.
Having only started his open-wheeler career last round in Abu Dhabi, van der Helm from the Netherlands now joins the winner’s list along with Matteo Nannini (#15), Joshua Dürksen (#22), Shihab Alhabsi (#34) and Lucas Roy (#8), as the category approached the halfway point of the season.
Nannini, Dürksen and Alhabsi also claimed victories at the Dubai Autodrome this weekend, with all three drivers filling the top three positions in the title fight respectively after completing the four races held around the 5.390km GP circuit layout. Fifteen-year-old rookie Nannini from Italy has lead the points standings all season – despite momentarily losing the lead by 5 points after Dürksen took the Race 2 win – but sits just 17 points ahead of his rivals with two rounds remaining.
“The competition we are witnessing in this season of F4UAE is stronger than any other we have had before, and it is fantastic to see such talented drivers making great success here in the UAE,” said Mohamed Ben Sulayem, President of ATCUAE and Emirates Motor Sport Federation, and FIA Vice President for Sport. "To see these young drivers starting their single-seater careers here in the Middle East is very proud for us, and we wish them all the best as they race towards the championship title with only two more rounds left this year.”
More than six and a half hours of sanctioned testing and official practice sessions were made available earlier in the week at the Dubai Autdrome, before qualifying got underway on Friday afternoon. Eleven drivers joined the grid – the same entry list as Round 2 at Yas Marina Circuit two weeks prior – with Nannini and Alhabsi sharing the top times across the earlier sessions.
Nannini claimed his second pole position of 2019, with a best time of 2m00.533s, which was just 0.307s ahead of teammate Alhabsi. Not only did they start Race 1 from the front row, but their second-best times in qualifying were also faster than the rest of the grid, ensuring they qualified for the same positions for Race 3’s start on Saturday.
Race 1 was marred by one of the biggest first-lap crashes the category has experienced in its three-year history. Four cars were caught up in the turn-one incident including all three Dragon Racing cars – Lucas Roy, Rui Andrade (#88) and Rashed Ghanem (#9) – plus CRAM Motorsport’s Filip Kaminiarz who’s F4 Tatuus racer sustained serious damage on impact. All drivers were taken to medical as a precaution however were all declared well and fit to race the rest of the weekend.
Xcel Motorsport’s Nicola Marinangeli (#14) made the grid for the restart, but was unable to get going on the formation lap due to broken wishbone. With just six cars left out of the 11 initial starters, the race was shortened to 26-minutes.
Alhabsi – who initially fell back to rear of grid after stalling on the start – was thrown a lifeline by stewards, who requested original starting positions be reinstated for the restart. The Omani driver followed closely behind race leader Nannini, until overtaking the Italian on Lap 3 in The Bowl. Nico Göhler (#22) experienced mechanical issues half way through the race and was unable to finish. Alhabsi lead until race’s end, claiming his second race victory of the season ahead of Nannini and van der Helm.
After a long night of repairs whereby some teams did not finish working on the cars until 4am, all 11 drivers and their Tatuus racers were back on the grid for the reverse-grid Race 2 on Saturday morning.
With an inverted top-six format from Race 1's results, Göhler started off pole alongside Rafa Villanueva (#26). Dürksen moved up to second place on lap one, and pressured his teammate for the remainder of the race until overtaking the German on Lap 7. Alhabsi and Nannini were a close third and fourth before van der Helm overtook the championship leader on lap 11. Dürksen and Göhler made it a 1-2 for the respected German formula team, the first time this season.
In Race 3, Nannini and Alhabsi again started on the front row; their starting positions being determined by their second fastest lap time in qualifying. However, it was Göhler took the limelight first, jumping the start well before the lights went out and being given a 10-second penalty post-race. No other incidents marred the race, with Nannini taking victory over Alhabsi, while Roy was the biggest mover and shaker, jumping from an eighth-place start to third overall.
For the final reverse grid race of the day, Dürksen started from pole with fellow rookie van der Helm in second. Into turn one, Alhabsi moved up into third place, a lap later van der Helm took the lead, before Alhabsi soon after passed Dürksen to take second place. The two frontrunners stayed that way until the chequered flag, Nannini finished third after a fifth-place start, while the Paraguay youngster finished fifth.
Matteo Nannini, Xcel Motorsport (#15) – Italy. Fastest Qualifier and Winner of Race 3. Current championship Leader.
“We decided to have a different strategy for the tyres compared to the last round in Dubai, so we had to struggle more in the first two races. Also we qualified P1 but did not finish the race the same so it was not the best result. But for race three we put new tyres on which was a bit better for me. In the beginning of the race it was a bit difficult because behind me was pressure from my teammate that was pushing very hard. But then I pushed harder too and got a three second gap from him. Finishing P1 is the best result and I’m happy with this victory and I still am in front in the championship.”
Joshua Dürksen, Mücke Motorsport (#27) – Paraguay. Winner of Race 2. Currently 2nd place overall.
“Qualifying was not so good this weekend but in the race I could lead with my teammate. We had a nice battle without touching which was very good, and I’m very happy for this victory and for the team. It’s a bit of excitement to be racing with your teammate, even though it can be a little stressful too because you want to race hard but not having any crashes. We are good friends I think and have a good relationship. So it was great to be on the podium together for the team.”
Shihab Alhabsi, Xcel Motorsport (#34) – Oman. Winner of Race 1. Currently 3rd place overall.
“It was difficult in the first lap with three drivers crashing, but on the restart I was in second place and then a few laps later in the bowl I caught Matteo and I get the switch back. When I was leading I was getting faster and faster so it was really good for me, for my team, and for my country. Last round we had some problems with the car but this round I’m confident I can do a bit more better, and I can do even more better for the next round.”
Matteo Nannini currently leads the F4UAE Championship points on 214, 17 points ahead of Joshua Dürksen in second (197 points) and Shihab Alhabsi third (166 points.) Xcel Motorsport leads the Teams Championship over Dragon Racing, and Nannini leads the Rookie Championship over Dürksen.
Round 4 of the 2019 F4UAE Championship will return to Yas Marina Circui tin Abu Dhabi from February 21-23, before the season finale in Dubai from February 28-March 2.