Barter alone up front, but still a four-way title battle: 4 takeaways from the first half of the French F4 season

It’s only May, but French F4 has already nearly completed half of their season with three rounds done and only four left. After going to Nogaro, Pau and Magny-Cours in one single month, the 24 young drivers will have a pause of more than two months before Spa-Francorchamps. During these three meetings, some drivers have confirmed their potential, some have disappointed, and some others revealed all their talent.

By Perceval Wolff

A 67-points lead but a title battle far from being finished

Yes, Hugh Barter has been in his own dimension in these first rounds. With five pole positions, five race wins and 161 points, the Australian-Japanese driver looked absolutely unbeatable. However, the title is not yet in his bag. After battling with Masson and Capietto for the French F4 title last season, Barter decided not to step up to Formula Regional and to stay in F4, by doing a double campaign in both the Spanish and French championships.

As Spanish F4 will go to Spa-Francorchamps and Valencia before French F4, Barter won’t be allowed to score any points on these two rounds. As seventy points are available per round, the title battle is far from over. And Souta Arao (94 points), Alessandro Giusti (92) and Elliott Vayron (84) will do everything to catch up with him.

Hugh Barter in action at Magny-Cours | Credit: Hugh Barter

Mixed debuts for the Red Bull Juniors

The two main “attractions” of the championship were the two Honda and Red Bull-backed drivers Souta Arao and Yuto Nomura. After winning the Suzuka Racing School scholarship, they were sent to France to officially start their racing career after this intensive testing program. With four podiums, one win and one pole position, Souta Arao has already confirmed his potential. His very aggressive driving style helps him to be one of Barter’s main rivals, and Helmut Marko must be very pleased by Arao’s campaign so far.

However, it has been much more complicated for Yuto Nomura. Only ninth in the standings, the Japanese won twice thanks to the reversed-grid races. However, these races gave him more than 75% of his points, which means it has been much harder in qualifying and in the “standard” races. But we must also remember that he hasn’t scored any points at the Pau weekend: despite a very strong pace in qualifying, Nomura damaged his car in the first race, and his F4 couldn’t be repaired for the two other races. He absolutely has to step up his game to keep Marko’s faith.

Souta Arao already claimed a win in his French F4 debut season | Credit: Souta Arao

Rookie drivers fighting at the top

The most interesting aspect in F4 championships is watching the progression of the rookie drivers. There are always some favorites to a championship, but there are also some great surprises from some drivers we were not expecting to see at that level. They started slowly, to learn the maximum, and they kept on progressing at every round.

The best example is Jerónimo Berrío. The Colombian is experiencing his first season outside South America and the learning curve of Berrío is impressive. While he started his season at Nogaro outside of the points, he then achieved two top seven finishes in Pau, and three top five finishes, including his maiden podium, at Magny-Cours. After that first, zero-points weekend at Nogaro, Berrío has already climbed his way up in the standings, now holding 46 points. Berrío is clearly one to watch for the rest of the season. Let’s see if he can progress any further and can fight for some wins.

Amongst the other rookie satisfactions, Lorens Lecertua is a great surprise. However, he only holds eleventh in the standings. Despite a great pace in qualifying, the Belgian is still a bit too aggressive in his battles and loses a lot of points because of damage on his car, or penalties. But the potential is there. Frenchmen Enzo Peugeot (sixth),  Edgar Pierre (twelfth) and German Max Reis (fourteenth) have impressed, especially during the races with multiple overtaking on more experienced drivers. However, they have to improve their qualifying performances to be able to start higher on the grid and score big points at every race.

Jerónimo Berrío is getting to grips with the French F4 machinery | Credit: Jerónimo Berrío

A sophomore season not up to the expectations for returning drivers

Were we expecting too much from Alessandro Giusti and Elliott Vayron? Maybe. After an impressive end of the 2021 campaign for the two Frenchmen where they fought Masson, Capietto and Barter for the wins, the two drivers are still some of the fastest (and also youngest) drivers of the field. But the gap with Barter in front of them was not supposed to be that big. Nevertheless, they have showed their consistency in these first rounds and are still in the fight for the title. The season is still long and things can still change.

The other returning drivers Pierre-Alexandre Provost (fifth), Dario Cabanelas (eighth) and Enzo Géraci (tenth) have improved compared to last year. But is it enough to be in front of the rookies? The advantage of the three drivers that were in the top positions at Nogaro, seems to vanish progressively, although French-Luxembourgian Provost and Swiss Cabanelas still seem to be occasionally in the fight for the podium on some races. In the next rounds, both drivers will be eager to prove they have not hit yet their maximum potential for this year.

Header photo credit: Hugh Barter

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