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rashid Al dhaheri f4 imola grid

Rashid’s Journey: Two highs and a low in solid Imola F4 debut

rashid Al dhaheri f4 imola grid

Rashid Al Dhaheri began his car-racing career in bittersweet but solid style, finishing in the points in his debut for Prema Racing at Imola, where he contested Round 1 of the Italian 2023 Formula 4 (F4) Championship, the tenth edition of the series.

And within the 15-year-old’s first car race was ticked off boldly, Al Dhaheri’s transition from ace Karter to a promising single-seater rookie driver is now complete! He showed he was capable of running at front-runner pace and unintimidated to go wheel-to-wheel and flex his muscles when required, amid more experienced rivals – hallmarks of his performances this weekend – with a couple of seventh places and a DNF (thanks to a tap and broken wing) summing up the two days in Italy for the Abu Dhabi schoolboy.

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 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.

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Al Dhaheri, in his striking Huawei and Yas Heat sponsored car, is on an 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 with 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 those who were 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, including F1 Young Guns such as Lando Norris, Zhou Guanyu, and 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 fastest for his first car race was a solid start to Rashid’s F4  journey

In Race 1, the second youngest driver on the grid and among the least experienced in F4, got an early reality check being swamped at the start, and with the blink of an eye, Rashid found himself just out of the top ten. However, 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 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 seven formidable Prema drivers.

The race was won by Poland’s Kacper Sztuka from second-placed Brando Badoer, son of Italian ex-F1 driver Luca, 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 in addition to the top European drivers 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, that was shortened by two safety car periods. Such was the attrition and competitiveness of the field.

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. [The culprit apologised to Al Dhaheri after the race.]

At the front, Arvid Lindblad took victory in the incident-packed final race of the weekend, followed home by Alfio Spina in second place, ahead of Ugo Ugochokwu third.

Al Dhaheri summed up his race weekend at Imola, and first as an 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.”

Time to process so much that I learnt this weekend working with Prema Racing

He added: “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 that 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 unscathed. The race, not including Rashid’s group of drivers, was stopped and when restarted was won by Nicola Lacorte.

Useful Press Information

[Following Rashid Al Dhaheri’s journey is part of our pet project, as we jump on board the ‘fan bus’ monitoring a young talent intent on making it to the top, as announced earlier this month.]