F4 Italy: Strong weekend for Maya Weug & Victoria Blokhina at Red Bull Ring
Maya Weug had another very positive weekend in Italian F4 at Red Bull Ring, as the Iron Dame continued her streak of scoring points in every round this season.
Series rookie Victoria Blokhina had her best result of the season so far and was P12 in Race 1.
Italian Formula 4 Championship resumed its season after the summer break, with a slightly altered format: the high number of entries resulted in the introduction of karting-style heats, with four races instead of the usual three at the Austrian round of Red Bull Ring. 40 drivers from 25 different nationalities were in fact entered in the fifth round of the season, confirming the status of most competitive F4 championship globally for the Italian-based series. Female entries are led by Iron Dame and Ferrari Driver Academy member Maya Weug, at her second season in F4, and Victoria Blokhina (PHM Racing) at her rookie season in single seaters. Weug's sophomore campaign in Italian F4 has been a really remarkable one, having shown great progress over the course of one year; Spanish-Dutch-Belgian lady is now a consistent presence in the top-ten, having scored points at least once in every round this year. Blokhina has contested her first championship in Formula 4 machinery this winter, in the F4 UAE. The step to Italian F4 was big, but Blokhina has been up to the task and highly impressed with great recoveries in the races and several top-20 finishes - in a championship that often features 40-car fields. Following a few days of productive testing at the Red Bull Ring facility, the race weekend was marked by heavy rain showers throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
In very tricky conditions, Rafael Camara snatched pole position in a 2-group qualifying, with 26 cars entering the first race based on a combination of qualifying groups.
Rookie Ugo Ugochukwu (Prema Powerteam) lined up in second, in his first race in the Italian series. Blokhina was P22 on the grid, after qualifying 17th in her qualifying group.
The race got underway in damp conditions and Camara had a great getaway, followed by Taylor Barnard (PHM Racing), who was able to pass Ugochukwu at the start.
A first Safety Car was immediately deployed when Domingues (Iron Lynx) was collected by Spina (BWR Motorsports), with also Amand and Akhmedkhodjaev going off at Turn 4 in an unrelated incident. Blokhina successfully avoided the first lap tangles and advanced to P18.
At the restart, Camara ran wide at Turn 2 and Barnard snatched the lead; the two, though, made contact a few seconds later, and both would have to pit for damages.
Dunne made the most out of the situation and fired into the lead, followed by Wharton and Ugochukwu - who battled with Bohra for the top three.
Blokhina had a really strong race and continued to move up the order, making passes every lap. She was 14th right at the restart and then passed Ischer on lap 11. Her pace was top-10 worthy and, with a great move on Perino around the outside of Turn 4 under braking, she claimed 12th place.
Dunne meanwhile stretched his lead over Wharton, who was coming under pressure from Ugochukwo in the final laps. The Irishman took his second win of the season, ahead of the two Prema drivers. Ugochuwku was impressively on the podium at debut, with also Nicola Lacorte - at his first single seater race - was tenth.
Victoria Blokhina finished 12th, in what was her best result so far in the championship, gaining ten places from her starting position.
Heavy rain just before the second race of the weekend delayed the green flag and forced a Safety Car start. Andrea Kimi Antonelli preceded Rafael Camara, Kacper Sztuka and Alex Dunne. A great qualifying, fifth in her group, put Maya Weug in seventh on the grid.
Even behind the Safety Car, though, visibility remained an issue and Wharton, Laursen, Lacorte and Domingues either spun or went in the gravel for the challenging conditions. The race was green for the shortest of times, as Lacorte was stuck on a kerb and had to be retrieved by the marshals.
Weug, meanwhile, was able to move into sixth place, but then battled with Laursen and Wurz at the restart; the Dane eventually ended in the gravel and Wurz gained sixth.
Antonelli, meanwhile, checked out and opened a 2 second lead over Camara and Dunne.
The Italian won unchallenged ahead of his Prema teammate. With seventh place, Maya Weug kept her point scoring streak alive, having scored points in every round.
With qualifying groups mixed, Maya Weug and Victoria Blokhina were both in Race 3, contested on a dry Sunday morning, as the two ladies of the championship started P7 and P22 respectively. Andrea Kimi Antonelli preceded Ugo Ugochukwu on the grid a
Weug had a more difficult start and lost a few places at Turn 1, when several drivers went deep into the asphalt runoff. Antonelli retained the lead, but Taylor Barnard was once again ahead of ugochukwu in the first lap, before the Safety Car was deployed.
Rishab Jain (BWR Motorsports) had in fact spun and made heavy contact with the pit wall on the main straight. The Singaporean driver was unhurt.
The race resumed for the final 14 minutes, with Maya Weug and Victoria Blokhina in P11 and P20 - and both started to move up the order.
Ahead, Antonelli and Barnard made contact as they battled for the lead - in a similar situation to race 1. Barnard picked up a puncture and had to stop, while Antonelli pitted for a new front wing.
This paved the way to Kacper Sztuka in the race lead, followed by Laursen and Ugochukwu.
After another Safety Car interruption for the accident of Alfio Spina, Sztuka stretched his legs in first place, also helped by the Prema duel between Laursen and the fast American rookie, who was ultimately through into second place.
Sztuka claimed his second win after the Imola season opener, followed by Ugochukwu, Laursen, Stenshorne and Bedrin. With a solid second part of the race, Maya Weug could cross the finish line in eighth place, scoring points once again for the third consecutive race.
Victoria Blokhina kept it clean and had another superb recovery, finishing in P15.
Alex Dunne was in pole position for the final race of the weekend, which saw the bottom four drivers not qualifying for the final.
With James Wharton waving on the grid, there was a second formation lap, but the Australian was able to take his position having started before the last car went by.
At the start, US Racing's drivers Dunne and Sztuka held the top spots, followed by Ugochukwu. Rinicella and Fitzgerald came together at Turn 2, with also Blokhina involved in the contacts. The young lady lost a position but was able to continue, while the SC was out to allow the recovery of the other two cars.
Dunne led at the restart but could not pull away; Antonelli passed Ugochukwu for third and hunted down the US Racing duo. Sztuka was edged onto the grass and dropped behind the three Prema drivers, but Dunne held on and won Race 4 - stepping on top of the podium for the second time this weekend.
After the Safety Car restart, Maya Weug was briefly in tenth place, but then battled around the 11th and 12th position in the closing stages. Whe would finish in P12, after yet another solid performance.
Victoria Blokhina was also the protagonist of another charge up the field: she consistently made up positions and crossed the finish line in P22, but would later receive a 10 second penalty for the first lap contact that demoted her to P29.
Nevertheless, it was by far Blokhina's best weekend in the series and further proof of her progression through her rookie season.
Italian F4 will be back on track at the Temple of Speed, Monza, on October 6-8 for the penultimate round of the 2022 championship.