Andrea Kimi Antonelli wins Formula Regional Middle East Championship

Andrea Kimi Antonelli wins Formula Regional Middle East Championship

19.02.2023: • Italian talent clinches overall and Rookie Cup titles in tense finale • Season-long title challenger Taylor Barnard championship runner-up • Mumbai Falcons swoops to Teams title

• Italian talent clinches overall and Rookie Cup titles in tense finale

• Season-long title challenger Taylor Barnard championship runner-up

• Mumbai Falcons swoops to Teams title

Mercedes Formula 1 protégé Andrea Kimi Antonelli became the inaugural Formula Regional Middle East (FRMEC) champion during another thrilling weekend of action in the final round at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

The 16-year-old Italian didn’t win any races, although he did take the chequered flag first in one of them. But a penalty for a collision with main title rival Taylor Barnard as they battled for the lead in race one converted victory into no points for Antonelli, and kept things at boiling point overnight before the deciding two races on Sunday.

British racer Barnard’s struggle away from the startline in race two effectively settled the championship in favour of Mumbai Falcons star Antonelli, and the new king of FRMEC could afford to relax in the finale. Here, he applied constant pressure to Barnard’s PHM Racing team-mate Nikita Bedrin before finishing a close second. For 17-year-old Bedrin, it was a fine way to end the season and resulted in his second victory in FRMEC.

Honours in the first two races were also taken by second-time winners in the series. Mari Boya was elevated to victory for Hyderabad Blackbirds by MP Motorsport in the first by Antonelli’s penalty.

The 18-year-old Spaniard had just passed team-mate Sami Meguetounif for third place when Antonelli made contact with Barnard, spinning the Briton towards the tail of the field. That was enough for Boya to claim the win from Frenchman Meguetounif and Mumbai Falcons’ Ferrari Driver Academy youngster Rafael Câmara, who took the Rookie Cup.

Another Spaniard, Pepe Martí, triumphed in race two after a terrific drive from fifth on the grid. The 17-year-old Pinnacle VAR racer had to close in on long-time leader Michael Shin and passed him in the closing stages of the race. While that was disappointing for South Korean Shin, second place was by far the best FRMEC result for the Prema Racing man and he also scored Rookie Cup honours. Third went to Mumbai Falcons racer Kirill Smal.

In the final race, Câmara took another third place behind Bedrin and Antonelli in an all-rookie podium. Both the Brazilian and Mumbai Falcons team-mate Lorenzo Fluxá had arrived in Abu Dhabi with the slenderest of mathematical chances of the title, but were eliminated from contention after race one. Nevertheless, the two podium finishes meant Câmara defeated Spaniard Fluxá to third place in the final standings by nine points.

At the top of the table, Antonelli finished the season heading Barnard by 40 points and Câmara by 61. Antonelli also claimed the Rookie Cup title in race two, with Barnard finishing second in this classification and Nikhil Bohra grabbing third from Câmara on a results tiebreak. Mumbai Falcons Racing wrapped up the Teams crown.

Driver Quotes

Race 1
Mari Boya / Hyderabad Blackbirds

“I’m really happy about this race. The team already told me the situation and what was happening with [Andrea Kimi Antonelli]. I was sure that contact would be, if not a penalty, then something.

Anyway, [Antonelli] had a really good race, maintained really good pace, but I’m really happy for me and also for the team. We did a one-two. I think we had a really good car. And now we push on for tomorrow and try and improve some little things and let’s see how the last races go.”

Race 2
Pepe Marti / Pinnacle VAR

“In this car it’s really difficult to overtake. There’s no DRS, nothing to help us on the straights, so [Michael Shin] was doing a great job [defending]. When someone’s defending really nicely, you have to create the gap so I had to try a lot of different things.

One ended up with my flying over the top a kerb, which wasn’t great! I ended up finding a gap on the exit of T7, so it was a pretty nice move. Through the race I had to do a quite a lot of good moves to move forward, but it was just a really good race. I was really happy with the pace we managed to find over the last two rounds, and be able to put it to produce good results. I’m just really happy, and proud of the team around me.”

Race 3
Nikita Bedrin / PHM Racing

“I’m feeling amazing. Finally another race win, from pole. The speed was looking good compared with everybody else but [Andrea Kimi Antonelli] was really fast, so I struggled a bit for a few laps. Then I had to defend, but I think I’ve done a good job. I kept my position and I’m really happy with P1. Finally, a few wins this season. I’m really happy with that.”

Race 1

Andrea Kimi Antonelli was the man on form in the first qualifying session. He didn’t need to, because he was already on pole for race one, but he went quicker still on the very last lap. With his main title rival Taylor Barnard second on the grid, 0.211 seconds behind, it couldn’t have been more finely poised for an evening battle under the Yas Marina floodlights.

Barnard, fresh from three days of FIA Formula 3 testing in Bahrain during the week, got by far the better start to take the lead from Antonelli, while behind them Sami Meguetounif had a terrific getaway from fifth on the grid to jump ahead of Rafael Câmara and Mari Boya. On the second lap, Boya made a superb overtaking manoeuvre around the outside of Câmara into Turn 9 to grab fourth. Then on lap four, Boya passed Meguetounif for third, and this would prove to be perhaps the most significant move of the race…

Up ahead, Antonelli had forced the defending Barnard to compromise his exit out of the Turns 6/7 complex at the end of the third lap, and was narrowly in front as they crossed the start-finish line. But Barnard had the inside line for Turn 9 and reclaimed the advantage. Just over a lap later, Antonelli attempted an audacious feint to the inside of Turn 12, but Barnard made the corner his.

Half a lap further round, Antonelli lunged down the inside of Barnard into Turn 5, his tyres smoking, but he had entered the corner too fast and Barnard slipped ahead once more as they entered the long straight. When they arrived at Turn 6, Antonelli was just a touch too late on the brakes and, with Barnard’s car on the limit of adhesion mid-corner, the slightest contact sent the Briton spinning around and outside the top 20.

Antonelli continued unscathed and now in the lead, and he would be champion if there were no significant changes in position. But by the seventh lap came notification from the quick-working stewards that the Italian had been given a 10-second penalty for the contact with Barnard.

He soon recovered to fifth position on corrected times but, with Boya, Meguetounif, Câmara and Lorenzo Fluxá all circulating in similar lap times just behind him, that looked to be the limit of his potential. Still, the likely fifth place for Antonelli would give Barnard only the slightest of mathematical chances of the title.

Then, in the closing stages, came drama. Giovanni Maschio pulled his car off the track at Turn 6, and the safety car was called for the last lap. The field bunched up, and Antonelli’s 10-second penalty suddenly relegated him way down the order to 15th, one position behind the recovering Barnard. And the results from this race set their grid positions for race two; together again…

Boya therefore took the victory from Meguetounif, Câmara and Fluxá. Behind them, following the early retirement of Nikita Bedrin, it was PHM Racing’s Swiss racer Josh Dufek who wriggled free of a tremendous battle between Pepe Martí and R-ace GP pair Tim Tramnitz and Nikhil Bohra to eventually take fifth place. Tramnitz won his war with Martí on the road, but a 10-second penalty for first-lap contact with Aiden Neate dropped the German to 21st.

Martí was therefore classified sixth ahead of Bohra and Kirill Smal, the latter two taking second and third in the Rookie Cup behind Câmara. A fine Formula Regional debut from R&B Racing’s Nikola Tsolov gave the Bulgarian ninth place from Michael Shin, who won an epic battle with Norwegian Martinius Stenshorne (R-ace GP) for the final point.

Race 2

Michael Shin started on pole position from the reversed grid, and an excellent start converted that into the lead. Behind him, an early battle between Nikola Tsolov, Pepe Martí and Kirill Smal resulted in Smal emerging ahead from the Turns 6/7 complex. Martí, from fifth on the grid, looked as though he had excellent pace, and on the sixth lap he pulled off a fine move on Smal to grab second place around the outside of Turn 9.

At this point Shin was two seconds to the good, but Martí began to trim the advantage, and by the 10th lap they were together. On lap 11 the Spaniard tried a move around the outside of Turn 6, but the South Korean held on. Up at Turn 9, he went outside Shin but ran wide and flew over the exit kerbs. Still undeterred, Martí fought back and finally got into the lead at the end of the 13th lap of 16. Martí went on to win a reversed-grid race for the second successive event, this time by 1.900 seconds, with Shin second and Smal third.

Tsolov fell to sixth in the first few laps, with Josh Dufek and Lorenzo Fluxá also getting ahead of the Bulgarian. Fluxá wasn’t finished yet, and a last-lap manoeuvre on the outside of Turn 9 ended with him, like compatriot Martí earlier on, going airborne on the kerbs. Dufek held on for fourth, with Fluxá next.

Rafael Câmara passed Tsolov for sixth on the 14th lap, but a 10-second penalty was issued to the Brazilian for an earlier incident where he spun Sami Meguetounif out of contention. Alpine F1 Academy protégé Tsolov therefore moved up to sixth in the results, ahead of Nikhil Bohra and Martinius Stenshorne.

 Tsolov also completed the Rookie Cup podium behind Shin and Smal. Bohra was then given a five-second penalty for breaches of track limits, dropping him to eighth behind Stenshorne.

But what of the title contenders? Taylor Barnard had been promoted one spot to 13th in the starting line-up – two spots ahead of Andrea Kimi Antonelli – thanks to a grid penalty for Stenshorne. But Barnard bogged down at the start and got away towards the rear of the field. The title was now firmly in Antonelli’s hands, which was just as well because he earned another 10-second penalty for contact that spun around Sebastián Montoya.

Barnard, meanwhile, was given a similar punishment for contact with Levente Révész. While Antonelli finished 10th on the road and Barnard 11th, the penalties demoted them to 13th and 18th respectively, and Antonelli was champion. Nikita Bedrin was promoted to ninth from the back of the grid, with Mari Boya 10th.

Race 3

Once again Andrea Kimi Antonelli had made a last-lap improvement in qualifying, but this time his effort in the second session wasn’t quite enough. Instead, Nikita Bedrin clung onto pole position by a mere 0.013 seconds, and Antonelli would line up alongside him on the front row.

Both made good starts, allowing Bedrin to assume the advantage, but an impossibly tight squeeze among several cars in the midfield led to Nikhil Bohra, Owen Tangavelou and Levente Révész all crashing on the exit of Turn 7. Out came the safety car, and then the race was red-flagged so that the barriers could be repaired.

The race eventually resumed under the safety car and, when it went green, there was time for eight laps of racing. Bedrin scorched away in front, but Antonelli never fell far adrift, and with three laps remaining the newly crowned champion was beginning to probe for a way past. With just over two laps remaining, Antonelli drew alongside on the outside of Turn 6 and he and Bedrin entered the corner two-abreast. As both cars squirmed on the limit of grip, Antonelli slid wide into the run-off, short-cutted Turn 7 and emerged in front.

To his credit, he then moved over in Turn 9 to allow Bedrin back in front. Over the final two laps Antonelli pushed as hard as he could, but Bedrin clung on for his second FRMEC victory by just 0.613 seconds. Rafael Câmara had a fine view of the action ahead throughout the race on his way to third position, and completed an all-rookie podium.

The action behind was frantic. Josh Dufek held fourth at the restart, pursued by Sami Meguetounif, Taylor Barnard and Mari Boya. But Meguetounif soon headed for the pit lane to retire, while Boya pulled off a fine move on Barnard at Turn 5. Boya then set off after Dufek, and with five laps to go they were side by side as they raced to Turn 9.

Contact sent Boya off the circuit and into the pits in order to replace a punctured left-rear tyre, while Dufek ran wide too and allowed Barnard into fourth place. Barnard went on to finish fourth from Dufek, while Martinius Stenshorne passed Kirill Smal with three laps remaining for sixth.

Just behind them, Pepe Martí made contact with the rear of Lorenzo Fluxá at Turn 12, sending his fellow Spaniard spinning and allowing Aiden Neate to pass both of them. Neate went on to finish eighth from Martí, but a 10-second penalty for Martí relegated him to 10th and promoted Michael Shin to ninth.

Nikki Kemp - photos FRMEC


19.02.2023 / MaP

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