Natasha Seatter’s one-off return in the opening round of the 2013/2014 Formula Gulf 1000 season nets two wins from two races at the Dubai Autodrome from old rival Saeed Bintouq.[Not a valid template]
From the outset, it was clear the opening round of the 2013/2014 Formula Gulf 1000 series wasn’t going to be easy. Rain, of all things in the Middle East, had already stunted the previous day’s practice session, the single seaters and Radical Middle East Cup left with nothing but a flooded National Club configuration to play. For raceday, following another burst of sporadic rainfall that pushed timings back yet further, event organisers opted to use the Dubai Autodrome’s shorter, tighter and much dryer Club Circuit. This still left Formula Gulf 1000 in a pickle though: with time running short on race day thanks to a delayed schedule, many in the paddock were left wondering if the second race of the day would happen at all.
Even the entry list for Formula Gulf’s first round was up for debate. Series debutant Tom Bale was in Bahrain for the FIA/CIK World KF Junior Championship, though series coordinator Barry Hope explained that the Welshman would see out the rest of the FGulf season. Fellow rookie Ameer Hassan was another notable absentee, the Lebanese driver competing in the UAE Rotax Max round in Al Ain hoping to qualify for the Rotax Word Finals next year. Into the breach at the eleventh hour stepped 2012/2013 Formula Gulf Trophy winner Natasha Seatter for a one-off run in the series she dominated early last season. Her return would prove fruitful.
Having stuck the #73 Ralph Firman-designed single seater on pole position for race one, the Malaysian made a good getaway at the rolling start, pulling out a near-two second lead over nearest rival (and series returnee) Saeed Bintouq in the #02 entry. Consistently strong laptimes meant fastest lap after fastest lap would tumble, and by the end of the 18-lap race, Seatter’s advantage over Bintouq had extended to nine seconds. A decisive warning shot had been fired.
Bintouq however was keen to show just how much his rookie season in Formula Gulf last year had paid off, and having fended off series newcomer Abdullah Al Khereji in the opening encounter, the Emirati made a much stronger start to the second race of the day. Though still beaten into the first turn by Seatter, Bintouq’s pace showed he wasn’t about to let his Malaysian sparring partner take the gold that easily. When a brief Code 60 period came to an end (during which drivers must stick to a 60kph speed limit whilst officials remove debris from the track), Bintouq’s reaction was much quicker than Seatter’s, the Emirati leaping ahead out of the final corner and heading the field across the line by just over half a second. Outbraked into turn one, his lead was short-lived, but a cheeky bit of racecraft – plus two runners-up spots – show there is still plenty to come from Saeed Bintouq in 2013/2014.
Saudi Arabian Al Khereji meanwhile made a strong start to his single seater racing career in the #28 entry by taking third place first time out, albeit nearly 50 seconds behind Bintouq. Abdullah Kabbani had looked good for third place early on in the #77 machine only for mechanical gremlins to strike on lap eight, the Saudi driver crawling onto pitroad shortly after. Kabbani would strike back though in race two, launching past both Al Khereji and Kuwaiti’s Adnan Bahrami (#67) on the opening lap to snatch the final spot on the rostrum. Green lap after green lap signified personal bests and rapid development from former Formula BMW runner Kabbani, another youngster to pay close attention to this season.
Al Khereji’s second race meanwhile did not finish quite as well as his first, the #28 car disappearing off the timescreens on lap two and reappearing only at the end of the race – now running under circuit spotlights – behind the recovery truck. Perfectly fine after his early exit, the Saudi Arabian (and Bahrami, whose consistency brought a pair of fourth places) takes some critical single seater knowledge into round two at the Yas Marina Circuit in two weeks time.
For the returning Natasha Seatter though it was business as usual, the yardstick having been thrown down early for her younger Formula Gulf 1000 rivals to aim for this season. Hopefully next time the weather will play ball too.
|Round 1||Race 1|
|1 –||Natasha Seatter (MAL)||#73||18 Laps|
|2 –||Saeed Bintouq (UAE)||#02||+8.943s|
|3 –||Abdullah Al Khereji (KSA)||#28||+49.639s|
|4 –||Adnan Bahrami (KUW)||#67||+1 LAP|
|DNF –||Abdullah Kabbani (KSA)||#77|
|Round 1||Race 2|
|1 –||Natasha Seatter (MAL)||#73||12 Laps|
|2 –||Saeed Bintouq (UAE)||#02||+9.151s|
|3 –||Abdullah Kabbani (KSA)||#77||+15.248s|
|4 –||Adnan Bahrami (KUW)||#67||+1 LAP|
|DNF –||Abdullah Al Khereji (KSA)||#28|