F4UAE: Unlucky round for Victoria Blokhina at Dubai
Victoria Blokhina continued to improve pace-wise in the Formula 4 UAE Championship, but was met with an unlucky third round at Dubai. Nevertheless, the young Russian was P21 in Race 2, gaining four places.
The Formula 4 UAE Championship's field continues to grow, as a few new additions joined the paddock in Dubai for the third round of the 2022 season and bringing the count up to 31 entries.
The Emirati-based series has established itself as one of the world's top F4 championships, attracting the best teams and drivers getting ready for their summer campaigns. Having hosted the global debut of the new generation Tatuus F4 car, F4UAE offered one more reason to get up to speed with the brand-new Halo-equipped T-021.
The resulting grid is a star-studded line up of some of the best drivers that will go on to race in the Italian, German, Spanish, British series later this year - and among them, 15-year old Russian Victoria Blokhina. At her first year in single seaters, Blokhina is eyeing track time and F4UAE provided the perfect opportunity to collect valuable experience ahead of her European debut.
At Yas Marina, Blokhina showed promising pace and was for the first time in the top-20, in a strong 27-car field. In Dubai, she continued her learning process and was more consistent, always fighting around the top-20 positions.
Teams and drivers remained in Dubai for the third round - which was contested on the 5.390 km long Grand Prix layout, unlike the previous round which used the shorter International layout. In the testing days preceding the event, Victoria Blokhina climbed the order and often finished mid-pack.
In the two 15-minute qualifying sessions, though, she struggled a bit more and ended P26 and P25 respectively. It would be Charlie Wurz and Rafael Camara (both Abu Dhabi Racing by Prema) to share pole positions, with Luke Browning slotting into third as the fastest non-Prema driver.
The Four Prema cars swept the field at the start of race 1, but Browning (Hitech GP) managed to hold on to third at Turn 1. Camara and Wurz had a fierce battle for the lead, while Andrea Kimi Antonelli - who couldn't repeat his dominant performance of Round 1 - tried to make up positions in the early stages.
The Safety Car was deployed as early as on lap 3, when newcomer Valerio Rinicella (MP Motorsport) stopped on track. Crucially, Browning made a move on Wurz for second place just after the Safety Car board had been shown - which would result in a post race penalty.
From 26th on the grid, Victoria Blokhina gained a position before the race neutralization. She would move into P24 when Michael Shin (JHR Developments) also retired for a technical issue.
The race resumed with 5 minutes left on the clock; there was spectacular action throughout the field, with Prema drivers Antonelli and Neate swapping places. Charlie Wurz also came under pressure from the return of Nikita Bedrin, who had set the fastest lap of the race: the Russian would move into third at the very final corners, with Rafael Camara claiming his first win in the series. The aforementioned 10-second penalty for Browning, though, would demote him from second to 12th, as Wurz, Antonelli and Stenshorne rounded out the Top five.
Victoria Blokhina had a good first race and battled with Brando Badoer in the closing minutes; she would move up to P23 on the last lap, gaining 3 places from her starting position.
Charlie Wurz, Rafael Camara, Kimi Antonelli and Aiden Neate formed an Abu Dhabi by Prema front rows lock-out on the starting grid of Race 2. At lights out, though, the fast charging Nikita Bedrin went all the way around the battling Prema cars at Turn 1, snatching second place. Suleiman Zanfari spun and stopped on the first lap - with also Rinicella, Ho, Shin and Escotto having to retire early.
The Safety Car was then deployed at the end of the first lap and the green flag waved again on lap 3. Bedrin had to defend from Camara at the restart - with Neate seizing the opportunity to leapfrog his teammate for third. This action allowed Charlie Wurz to check out and pull away in the lead of the race - but his lonely run was soon interrupted by a new Safety Car, when Antonelli and Stenshorne crashed heavily, also collecting Barnard in the process.
The lengthy recovery meant that the race could only resume with 4 minutes left. Victoria Blokhina, meanwhile, had kept it clean and recovered from 25th up to 21st place - and was faster than the train of cars immediately ahead of her.
Unfortunately, an accident involving Blokhina, Gandhi and Akhmedkhodjaev brought out the red flag and the race was declared finished.
As per regulations, the red flag meant that Blokhina was classified in P21, once again at the doors of the top-20. Charlie Wurz took victory and championship lead, with Nikita Bedrin and Aiden Neate stepping on the podium of the first Sunday race.
In a miraculous effort by all the mechanics, all the crashed cars from the hectic Race 2 were ready in time for the start of Race 3, contested just a few hours later.
Camara preceded Neate, Browning and Wurz on the grid, with Victoria Blokhina lining up in 25th place.
After a clean start in the first corners, the race was soon under Safety Car when Sohil Shah made contact with Shin at Turn 6 - and the latter was sent into the side of Miron Pingasov.
Meanwhile, Luke Browning had managed to get ahead of Aiden Neate, with Camara holding the lead.
The race resumed on lap 4 and the Brazilian pulled away from the pack, as Neate and Browning were also chased by Inthraphuvasak - who had cleared rookie Christian Ho at the restart. Victoria Blokhina had gained a position after the first lap, but dropped all the way down to 29th in the chaotic restart.
Taylor Barnard slowed down and pulled over in the final sector, but the race remained green for the exception of a local double-yellow. Browning and Wurz traded places for the final step of the podium; the Austrian made the move after a few switchbacks from the Hitech driver, allowing Ho to close in.
In a similar situation, Neate caught up with Camara and the lead changed hands on lap 9. At Turn 1 on the following lap, the leaders banged wheels and Camara got back ahead, but had to defend until the final corners from the return of Neate, who ultimately had to back off for the waved yellow flags.
In a Prema 1-2-3, Camara took his second win of the season, ahead of teammates Neate and Wurz - the latter having edged Browning for third. Singaporean rookie Christian Ho was an impressive fifth. Victoria Blokhina managed to catch up with the pack, but ran out of time to get past Akhmedkhodjaev on the last lap, completing the third race in P28.
The fourth and final race of the day - the reverse grid race - saw Suleiman Zanfari starting from pole and sharing the front row with Italian rookie Valerio Rinicella.
Both had a slow start off the line and it would be Alex Dunne and Martinius Stenshorne to lead at Turn 1.
Frantic action marked the first two laps and, among the many moves throughout the field, Andrea Kimi Antonelli managed to get ahead of Stenshorne, before a red flag halted the race on lap 3.
In a very similar accident to Race 2, Victoria Blokhina's 3Y Technology car got tangled with Anshul Gandhi and compatriot Vladislav Ryabov at Turn 7, with the cars effectively blocking the course. Gandhi would receive a 3-place grid penalty at the next race for causing an avoidable collision.
In a weird situation, race leader Dunne parked his Hitech GP car on the start/finish line, respecting the red flag procedure, while all the remaining 29 cars returned to the pitlane.
When the race could be resumed behind the Safety Car, the whole field - except Dunne - was handed a 5 second penalty.
At the green flag, the Irishman led from Antonelli, Stenshorne, Browning and Neate, while Machiels and Ried made contact but continued.
Antonelli had only one option to win - gaining over 5 seconds to second-placed Dunne - and launched a successful attack soon after, as he tried to pull away. Having signed the fastest lap, the Italian extended his lead to over two seconds, but Dunne continued to manage the race comfortably.
On lap 10, Neate passed Stenshorne for the final step of the podium after a lap-long battle which allowed Browning and Bedrin to join the party. Zanfari and Ho clashed on the final lap to no neutralization and Andrea Kimi Antonelli crossed the finish line over three seconds clear of Dunne, who could thus seal his first win in the series. Aiden Neate's third place was enough to strip Alex Wurz of the championship lead by one point.
The fourth and penultimate round of the 2022 F4 UAE Championship will again be held at Dubai Autodrome, on the same circuit layout, in a week's time. Victoria Blokhina will again focus on her improvement, trying to convert her testing speed into race results.