As we embark on a fourth season of the F4UAE Championship powered by Abarth in a few days time, let's look back at how far we've come, the star drivers who made their open-wheeler start in F4UAE, and the facts and figures that make up a successful three seasons of F4UAE.
The new category was spectacularly launched on February 2, 2016 under the Burj Khalifa, and with the presence of both His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, and EMSO President Mohammed ben Sulayem.
The inaugural season of competition began in October 2016, and over the course of five championship rounds and one trophy event, saw 16 drivers ascend on the United Arab Emirates and its two key racing circuits, the Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit.
South African Jonathan Aberdein claimed the inaugural F4UAE Championship title for Team Motopark, after amassing 14 race wins, two other podium finishes, plus being fastest in all five official qualifying sessions. Coming from a rookie F4 season in Germany, Aberdein (#21) was the standout driver of Season One and lead the championship points from the get-go, but not without strong competition from teammate Logan Sargeant from the USA (#23).
Sargeant finished second outright with 15 race podiums, took home Rookie Champion honours, and also helped Team Motopark seal the Teams Champions title for 2016/2017. Dubai-based Sean Babington (#4) from the Energy Dubai F4 Racing Team took third-place honours in the title fight and was the highest-finishing local driver during the season.
The inaugural season also saw three GCC drivers compete, including the UAE’s Saif ben Sulayem, and Qataris Ahmed Al Muhannadi and Abdrulahman Tolefat. Al Muhannadi (#22) won the Best Performing GCC Driver while also finishing an impressive fourth place outright on points.
Five different drivers won races during 2016/2017 including Aberdein, Babington, Sebastián Wahbeh (#7), Fabio Scherer (#13) and Leonard Hoogenboom (#27).
Once the F4UAE season was complete, eight of the category’s drivers went on to make a name for themselves in European F4 championships during the 2017 summer. Aberdein finished ninth outright in ADAC Formel 4, along with Scherer who finished ahead in fifth. Sargeant finished third in British F4, however, it was Australian Oscar Piastri (#88) who impressed the most, finishing the highest of any former F4UAE driver headed overseas by coming second outright in the British F4 Championship.
In 2017/2018, the F4UAE Championship came of age, with more experienced European teams setting up base in the UAE, and with more race-winning potential than before.
The calendar expanded to six rounds, and longer 30-minute races. With increased testing and practice opportunities, a total of 35 hours of official track time was on the offer for the category’s second season between December 2017 and March 2018.
Team Motopark joined forces with local operation Dragon F4 to create the front-running team Dragon Motopark F4, while other international teams joined including BWT Mücke Motorsport, US Racing (partnering with Rasgaira Motorsports), DR Formula Racing and CRAM Motorsport.
The local contingent saw an even stronger Energy Dubai team return with commercial backing from SILBERPFEIL Energy, plus GDL Racing and Dream Racing made appearances; the latter entering the category’s first female racer, 16-year-old Logan Hannah who contested Round 1.
Belgium racer Charles Weerts (#88), who competed in the previous F4UAE season with Team Motopark (and who finished second in the rookie fight in ADAC Formel 4 during the European summer) lead the championship from the first race. Over 23 races contested, Weerts won a total of eight races, a total of 17 podium appearances, and was fastest in qualifying twice out of six rounds.
His biggest rival was German racer David Schumacher (#27), whose impressive racecraft -- despite being a rookie -- helped take the championship battle to the final round at the Dubai Autodrome. Schumacher, who only joined at Round 2, won a total of three races and scored 16 podium finishes out of 19 starts, eventually finishing 22 points behind Weerts in the drivers championship. Schumacher also took home the F4UAE Rookie Champion title.
Twenty-one different drivers from 13 countries competed in the 2017/2018 F4UAE Championship, with nine of them winning races. These included Weerts, Schumacher, Tom Beckhäuser (#95), Lucas Peterson (#22), Caio Collet (#23), Olli Caldwell (#64), Amaury Cordeel (#888), William Alatalo (#6) and Leon Köhler (#77).
In an effort to give all rookie drivers the chance to retain such status in 2019 European championships, the third season of the F4UAE Championship condensed its calendar to just two short months between January and March 2019; where racing in the same calendar year enables rookie classification to continue in Europe.
Twenty races were scheduled across five rounds, with the season beginning as a support to the renowned Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai; the first time this had occurred.
Returning teams included reigning champions Dragon Racing, fellow local team Xcel Motorsport (formerly Energy Dubai), plus the regular international teams BWT Mücke Motorsport and CRAM Motorsport.
With Dragon Racing having taken the Drivers and Teams titles in 2017/2018, Xcel Motorsport pulled no stops in increasing the competition, and lead the season from the first race. Fifteen-year-old front-runner Matteo Nannini (#15) from Italy lead the points from the beginning and won the first race of the season in Dubai.
Four different race winners emerged from the opening weekend including Nannini, Joshua Dürksen (#27), Shihab Al Habsi (#3), and Lucas Roy (#8). Tijmen van der Helm (#13) was the only other different winner, at Round 3.
Nannini won the Drivers Championship with seven race wins and three pole positions, and also won the Rookie Championship for Xcel Motorsport. The team went on to win triple honours with the Teams Champions title; their best effort in F4UAE competition since joining in 2016.
Nannini’s title rival was Paraguyan Dürksen who won five races for BWT Mücke Motorsport, while Xcel Motorsport’s Al Habsi from Oman finished third outright.
A consistant field of 13 drivers from 11 countries competed regularly in the 2018/2019 F4UAE Championship.
FACTS & FIGURES - 2016 to 2019 SEASONS
Drivers - 46
Countries - 30
Different Race Winners - 18
Diffrerent Teams - 11
The 2019/2020 season started early with a non-championship Trophy Round, supporting the Formula 1® Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. The event made history for varous reasons, firstly with four women competing which was a first for circuit racing in the region. Three of the four women were GCC nationals from both the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; again, another first for motorsport in the Middle East and one that is understood to not have been replicated before in open-wheeler circuit racing.
Drivers included Emirati sisters Amna and Hamda Al Qubaisi, Logan Hannah from Scotland and Reema Juffali from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Amna Al Qubaisi also added to the history books, not only claiming pole position on Friday but becoming the first Emirati woman to win an FIA single seater race as she claimed victory on Saturday.
With a 13-driver field entered, two new racer winners were added to the record books.