Al Dhaheri makes impressive transition from Karting to Formula 4 at Imola debut
- All boxes solidly ticked by Rashid Al Dhaheri in debut single-seater campaign at Round 1 of the 2023 Italian F4 Championship;
- Emirati 15-year-old showed maturity, speed and race craft in his first car race;
- First Formula 4 trophy in first every Formula race
- Opening weekend of action, crashes, surprises and very close racing;
- DNF in final race after battling for a top ten finish turned the weekend bittersweet.
(23 April 2023, Imola, Italy) Rashid Al Dhaheri began his car racing career in solid style, the Abu Dhabi 15-year-old finishing in the points, in his debut for Prema Racing at Imola this weekend, where he contested Round 1 of the highly competitive, blue-chip Italian 2023 Formula 4 (F4) Championship, the tenth edition of the series.
His first car race ticked-off in bold, Al Dhaheri’s transition from ace Karter to promising single-seater driver is now complete!
F4 is, as the name suggests, four steps from Formula 1 (F1) and, in Italy, the cream of the world’s best young drivers gather each year to fight it out for the coveted crown, at seven iconic motorsport venues, with three points scoring rounds each race weekend, making it a 21-round series, which will be fought to the bitter end.
Al Dhaheri, in his striking Huawei/FAB and Yas Heat sponsored car, is on a F4 grid packed with up-and-coming talent – most of the drivers a year or two older than he is, including drivers with multi-year experience in the series, sons of F1 drivers and some affiliated to F1 teams. History shows that the Italian F4 series in its short time, has produced several drivers that are already at the highest level – F1 – which no doubt is the dream of all of them in action on Saturday (two races) and Sunday (one race.)
Big name drivers to have emerged from the Italian F4 Championship since it began in 2014, include F1 Young Guns such as Lando Norris, Guanyu Zhou, Mick Schumacher with others, on the fringes, such as Felipe Drugovich, Marcus Armstrong, Yuri Vips and Robert Shwartzman.
At Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, on Friday during free practice, Rashid’s limited but intense F4 testing experience came to good use, his transformation from multiple-Karting champion to car driver by Prema, meant the UAE driver was able to adapt rapidly and be on the pace from day one.
Qualifying seventh for his first car race was solid start to his single-seater racing journey.
In Race 1, the second youngest driver on the grid and among the least experienced in F4, got an early reality check when swamped at the start, in the blink of an eye, Rashid found himself just out of the top ten. But undeterred and unflustered he soon found his rhythm, battling among a posse of half a dozen cars, swapping positions until he was back in the top ten.
Using smart race craft, and a maturity belying his rookie status, Rashid bided his time and picked his battles, before attacking late in the race. Having kept his head while some around him lost theirs, he finished seventh; an impressive and solid debut. He was second best of the formidable Prema drivers.
The race was won by Poland’s Kacper Sztuka from second placed Brando Badoer, son of Italian ex-F1 driver, and Nicola Lacorte also from Italy.
Race 2 – late in the day – was also marked by a tardy start for the #14 car, but this time to keep out of trouble during a frenetic start and first lap at Imola, Rashid dropped down the order but again kept his head, knowing he had pace to unleash when things calmed down later in the race. And indeed, that’s when he plotted his ‘comeback’ with a flurry of strong moves which saw him cross the line in eighth.
That became seventh after penalties were handed out to others, which meant Rashid also scored his first rookie podium to go with the result. Notably, most of the ‘rookies’ have had previous experience in their own domestic F4 series, with the champions and cream of this generation, flying in from North and South America, Asia, Australia and, of course, the top European drivers are also in the fray.
Rashid is the only driver from the MENA and Gulf region competing at F4 level this season.
Rashid’s Prema teammate, McLaren young driver Ugo Ugochuwu, from the USA, won the second race; followed by Briton Arvid Lindblad in second and Maltese racer Zachary David taking the final podium spot.
Race 3 – another late afternoon race – was always going to be a big one with 36 cars on the grid, Rashid lined on the sixth row and the Yas Heat car was again in with the chasing pack, less than ten seconds separated the top dozen cars, as they jostled for position for much of the 13 lap race, shortened by two safety car periods, such was the attrition and competitiveness of the fiel
After the first restart Rashid was in a massive battle with half a dozen drivers targeting the top ten, when there was contact which resulted in a broken wing on the #14 car, at which point he decided the sensible thing to retire the damaged car.
At the front, Arvid Lindblad won the race, followed home by Alfio Spina in second and Ugo Ugochokwu third. Rashid’s group did not contest the morning race.
Al Dhaheri summed up his race weekend at Imola, and first as a F4 racer: “Nothing really prepares you for your very first car race, standing starts in F4 as opposed to rolling starts in Karting take getting used to and an area I will work on. Looking at the results I am satisfied. Many experienced drivers crashed or had incidents while I did my best to avoid them and get as much mileage as possible, in the final stages of the final race on Sunday, unfortunately I had to retire the car, after the front wing broke. It was an intense battle for the final points which I had never experienced before in car racing.”
“Nevertheless, I feel I delivered to my best ability, and considering it was my first single-seater race, I stayed out of trouble and top ten finishes was our first target. Now it’s time to process so much I learnt this weekend working with Prema Racing, the car and the racing itself. I want to thank my team for giving me a great car for my first race, and I hope they are happy with my performance this weekend. And to my family and sponsors: without you I would not be here, living my dream. Thank you for the support!”
“Finally, I must say I was relieved to watch my teammate Ugo and Andrea walk away from a big crash, and also the incidents during the weekend showed how much safety has improved under the FIA,” added Al Dhaheri.
The UAE driver referencing the start line crash in which Race 2 winner and pole sitter for Race 3, Ugochuwu stalled, while most of the cars lined up behind him on the grid managed to avoid the static car, Frasinetti was unsighted and crashed into the right of it and flipped sideways on to the track. Both drivers climbed out relatively unscathed. The race was stopped.
Rene Rosin, Prema Team Principal and owner:
“A solid weekend from Rashid, as a rookie without any car experience; this was always going to be a learning curve. Two strong results and then the reality of competing in such a strong field, with so many talented young drivers from all over the world. Really the best of the best in this age group, and Rashid can be proud, but also knows there is work to do, and the Italian F4 Championship is a long one with another 18 races to go. His first race, his first mission, in formula racing, was well accomplished.”