F4UAE: Victoria Blokhina recovers after difficult starts
Some chaotic race starts made for a difficult fourth round of F4UAE for rookie Victoria Blokhina, who was still able to complete good recoveries and finish all races.
The 2022 Formula 4 UAE Championship has quickly reached its fourth round - the third and final at the Dubai Autodrome - in a remarkable season that has brought over 30 among the world's most promising young drivers to the Emirates as they prepare their European campaigns.
A very compact and thus demanding schedule has resulted in one more challenging feature for teams and drivers, who are nevertheless maximizing the on-track opportunities and amassing mileage and valuable experience. Returning F4 racers, as well as newcomers and single-seater rookies have improved constantly throughout the rounds; among them is certainly 15-year-old Russian Victoria Blokhina, who made her racer debut at the first round in Abu Dhabi only a handful of weeks ago.
After a solid karting career in the highest spheres of international karting, Blokhina was one of the four finalists of the prestigious FIA Women In Motorsport's programme 'Girls On Track - Rising Stars', which sees the top female karting drivers going through a series of selections with the ultimate aim of joining the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Certainly, that achievement not only brought Blokhina under the global spotlight, but also helped the young Russian in her approach to the first steps in single-seaters.
On her first weekend, Victoria was in the top-20, showing good speed. From the Dubai rounds, she had promising pace in the pre-event tests, but couldn't always carry that speed into qualifying.
"I don't have enough experience in the battles and starts right now", she told us after the second weekend. "I have to learn everything, but that's why I came here to train and understand how and what is happening."
"The most important thing is to finish in all the races, get more experience, so that it will be easier later."
One week later, she would continue to improve pace-wise and got increasingly closer to the midfield. Two unfortunate contacts put her out of contention in a few races, but despite the unfortunate round, she was able to score a P21 in race 2.
Round 4 was again contested on the 5.390 km long Grand Prix circuit layout and saw Charlie Wurz and Aiden Neate continuing their battle for the championship lead. Neate had gained the top of the standings by one point last week, but had to face strong competition by his Prema Powerteam teammate, who could reclaim the top spot ahead of the season finale.
The real protagonist, though, was Brazilian Rafael Camara, who had missed the first round and thus is chasing his teammates in the points table. Camara scored pole position in Q1, followed by Charlie Wurz and Alex Dunne. In Q2, Xcel Motorsport's Ivan Domingues took a surprise pole, edging Aiden Neate by 0.046 seconds. Wurz was third, 70 thousandths of a second further adrift.
Victoria Blokhina was P26 in the first session, while significantly improved in Q2, where she would finish 22nd, just 1.5 seconds off from pole position.
Camara and Wurz held positions at Turn 1, but the Safety Car was soon deployed for several contacts involving Bohra, Zanfari and Bhirombhadki, as well as Neate and Browning; the latter managed to continue the race, but had dropped all the way down to P28. Blokhina emerged from the first lap chaos with no damages and gained a few places to resume in 24th. The race went back to green on lap 3; Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak managed to bring himself up to third after Dunne lost places. After a good start, Victoria Blokhina was caught in the action and had to recover from P25. The young Russian battled with Robert De Haan, before gaining one place over Anshul Gandhi. Luke Browning was the protagonist of a great charge and navigated through the field after the first lap contact. After a few laps, he had already recovered to 15th place and continued to hunt down the Top-10. Ahead, Camara started to open a gap on the competitors; Dunne managed to re-claim third, demoting Inthraphuvasak to fifth. These fights for the podium allowed Rafael Camara to pull away and extend his lead to over 2 seconds on Wurz, who couldn't keep up with his teammate, who took his third win in the series. Dunne and Bedrin continued to battle for third until the Russian made a move stick on lap 10. Browning was ninth after an outstanding charge. Victoria Blokhina had a solid race and finished P23, having battled with Ruhaan Alva and Yash Aradhya in the closing stages.
The second race saw Wurz once again starting from pole, ahead of Camara, Dunne and Inthraphuvasak. Blokhina was 22nd, in one of her best qualifying results. She had a strong start, but was again involved in early contacts which dropped her to the tail end of the field.
Camara snatched the lead on lap 1, but he was chased closely with polesitter Wurz, who was initially the fastest driver on track - and was also followed by Alex Dunne, in a three-car battle for the top spot.
By lap 8, though, Dunne was left behind and Camara and Wurz traded the fastest lap as they continued their flawless runs. The Austrian couldn't find a way past and had to settle for second: Camara won back to back, in another Prema 1-2. Dunne was third, ahead of Browning and Inthraphuvasak - the Brit claiming the position in the final laps.
Showing good speed and determination, Blokhina climbed the order until P24 in a convincing recovery.
After topping Q2, Ivan Domingues (Xcel Motorsport) lined up on the front row of Race 3 ahead of Aiden Neate and Charlie Wurz. Domingues held on after the first lap, despite enduring pressure from Neate.
Starting from P22 again, Blokhina had another difficult start and dropped to 28th on the first lap. Like in the previous races, the 15-year-old lady was then able to fight back and gained several places across the third race: on lap 3, she had already moved into P24, while Inthraphuvasak and Ried made contact and dropped back.
There was drama at the front of the pack, when Charlie Wurz took over the lead of the race from Browning - as Domingues and Neate dropped back on lap 4. They continued to battle and the Portuguese would eventually get back in contention for a podium position, but the leading duo had checked out, opening a six-second gap.
Nikita Bedrin was the big mover, having gained eight places to slot into fourth. The recovering Ried overtook Blokhina, who struggled a bit more in the second half of the race after some aggressive opening laps.
Wurz, under pressure from Browning for the whole race duration, managed to extend his gap to over one second on the final lap and claimed a tightly-fought victory. Ivan Domingues scored his first podium in the series, edging Bedrin by a few tenths across the line. Neate rounded out the top five.
Victoria Blokhina was again unfortunate on the first lap, but made a few good passes and took the chequered flag in 26th position.
Miron Pingasov led the reverse grid race, ahead of Day and Wharton. But it was the star of the weekend to jump into the lead at Turn 1, as Rafael Camara surprised everyone and never looked back; a great start by series newcomer Conrad Laursen brought him to third place, with pole sitter Pingasov dropping to fifth. After setting the fastest lap, Jamie Day started to apply pressure on Camara and the two managed to break away from Laursen. Behind, Stenshorne and Browning collided, eliminating the British driver from the race. In yet another extremely chaotic first lap across the midfield, Blokhina dropped down to last on the first lap, but tried to fight back and made up two places soon after. More drama saw Domingues and Bhirombhadki both entering the pits - handing two more places to the Russian lady. Laursen caught up again with the leading duo after a series of fast laps, leaving behind Wharton and Pingasov. Wurz, meanwhile, battled for position with title rival Neate - with the Briton holding on to seventh. Rafael Camara took another dominant win - the third out of four races this weekend - and preceded home driver Jamie Day and Conrad Laursen. The Danish driver scored his first podium in his first weekend in F4 UAE and finished ahead of James Wharton, making it three Premas in the top four. Victoria Blokhina overtook Aradhya and chased Ruhaan Alva, ultimately finishing P25. An unfortunate start hampered a potential top-20, which was surely in Blokhina's reach - but good recoveries still gave her the chance to improve and refine her racecraft. The series will now move back to Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, for the season finale next weekend. Charlie Wurz leads in the drivers standings by 42 points over Aiden Neate. A strong round 4 brought Rafael Camara to third place, just four points behind Neate.
Victoria Blokhina, though, will not be racing at Abu Dhabi and has already returned to Russia. She will continue her preparation for her next racing commitments.