Arao closes in on French F4 lead on trip to Spa-Francorchamps
Arao closes in on French F4 lead on trip to Belgium Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, whilst Honda’s Red Bull protégé Souta Arao was the top scorer in the first international round
The first of the French Formula 4 championship’s two international rounds took place this weekend at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the hills of eastern Belgium, and the famous grand prix venue proved to be a rewarding one for Honda’s junior single-seater stars once again.
In 2020 it was Ayumu Iwasa and Ren Sato who won all three French F4 races at the circuit, and this year Honda Racing School (HRS) scholars Souta Arao and Yuto Nomura were representing Honda's young driver development programme Honda Formula Dream Project (HFDP) and the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team which also supports the young pair’s careers and invited them to its headquarters during the summer break.
On Arao’s first visit to Spa he was over a second faster than anyone else in the free practice session on Thursday, although later in the day he was pipped to pole for the weekend’s first and third races by just over a tenth of a second as Nomura qualified fifth and sixth.
Despite a strong launch off the line, Arao was unable to convert his front row start into a podium finish in race one on Friday, as after the opening corner he lost several places and ran in fifth before a penalty for another driver promoted him to fourth. A grid penalty put Nomura further down the order at the start, and he finished seventh.
Nomura and Arao were sixth and ninth on the reversed grid of race two, and the latter rose two places before a double move on the final lap earned him fifth place. Nomura had a quieter run to 10th place, but was only four-and-a-half seconds away from the race leader by the chequered flag.
The drivers returned to the track on Saturday morning for their third and final race, and this time Arao could keep his second place through the first lap and then was in a position to fight for the race win. But two safety car periods, one which the race ended under, unfortunately gave him little time to go for the lead. However securing the runner-up spot ensured Arao was the highest scorer of the round, as the race winner was ineligible for points due to previous circuit experience, and he has rapidly closed in on the championship lead.
Nomura finished the weekend with a sixth place to add to his points haul, and he is sixth in the standings ahead of the final three rounds.