Team Abu Dhabi’s Erik Stark put himself on the front of the grid for the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi and for the second BRM F1 qualifying session in a row, Marit Stromoy saw pole snatched from her grasp at the very last.
With the Norwegian lady driver (below) sitting pretty at the top of the timing board – as she had done in India last month before being deprived of pole by Shaun Torrente – it was Stark’s turn to upset the apple cart on this occasion and give his title hopes a major boost with a stunning final qualifying lap of 42.81sec.
The lead changed several times in a thrilling six-boat Q3 shoot-out that eventually saw Team Abu Dhabi’s Thani Al-Qemzi qualify in third position and Team Amaravati’s Jonas Andersson and Erik Edin delivering impressive performances to qualify in fourth and fifth.
Championship leader Torrente had been first on the water in not ideal water conditions and the American settled for sixth place with the start of Saturday’s race from the pontoon now taking on even greater significance.
A delighted Stark said:
I will enjoy this moment now and the podium and then, in 30 minutes, we start the work for tomorrow.
It’s hot, it’s going to be a long race and it’s going to be tough.
I didn’t actually do a perfect lap, but it was enough – It was amazing.
I have been in Abu Dhabi since India.
I knew if I had fun out there I would do well.
All race winners this year have been from pole, so I knew the importance of the qualifying.
Team Abu Dhabi’s team manager Guido Cappellini added:
It’s an incredible end of this season and the drivers now are very close, especially our three drivers.
There is a big pressure for this race and the next one, fortunately, Thani now has a very good chance for tomorrow.
Normally he makes a very good start, all the season. Maybe all our three boats can push hard and we can get three boats on the podium. Shaun is in sixth and now it depends on the start.
It is very possible that we can get three boats in the top three positions after the second buoy.
Cappellini went on to compliment Marit:
Marit has done an incredible job and I am very happy for this girl.
She has been unbelievable now and done a very good job at the last two races.
It is fantastic because the level of the World Championship is very high.
Three-time World Champion Philippe Chiappe of the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team failed to make it through Q1 and will start the race from 13th place:
We had a problem since India, no power, a problem with the engine.
The Victory Team’s Ahmed Al-Hameli barrel-rolled (above) out of Q2 after a high-speed coming together with Chiappe’s team-mate Peter Morin and emerged unscathed from the impact.
With Sutthipan Sookbuangbon stranded in Bangkok with a visa issue, only 18 drivers lined up at the start of the 20 minutes of Q1 and six would be eliminated.
Francesco Cantando posted the first sub 46-second lap before Morin hit the top with a 45.70sec tour and Stark went even quicker with a 45.61. Torrente (below) slotted into second with a 45.65 and the Team Abu Dhabi pair all but secured their places in Q2.
Andersson stormed into the top three with a lap of 45.57sec, as Stark went on to win the session with a 45.21sec lap from Andersson and Torrente. Cédric Deguisne, Simone Shuft, Filip Roms, Duarte Benavente, Grant Trask failed to make Q2 and a last gap lap by Bartek Marszalek pushed Chiappe out of the running.
It was critical that drivers were inside the top six during Q2 and Al-Qemzi started well to clock the target lap of 44.86sec. The session was yellow-flagged after a spectacular collision between Ahmed Al-Hameli and Peter Morin, with the Emirati Victory Team driver holding fourth place at the time of the crash.
Morin pitted for potential repairs while the yellow flag remained in situ with his fifth place and a position in Q3 all but ruined.
Eighth-placed Torrente was relying on a restart before the clock ran out and race officials extended the session by five minutes.
Action restarted with just three minutes 45 seconds remaining. Carella moved into the top six and Torrente clocked a 45.36sec lap to move into fourth place, displacing Carella in the process.
Edin stomed into Q3 in the dying seconds as well and pushed Al-Hameli and Morin’s stricken boats out of the running. Marszalek, Cantando, Carella, Sami Selio, Al-Hameli and Morin failed to reach the six-boat Q3 shoot-out after Strømøy sneaked in at the death with another stunning lap.
Torrente was the first out in Q3 and opened up with a 44.31sec run and improved with a 44.13 to set a very beatable target.
Andersson (below) was next on the water and the Swede aborted his opening run in a bid for a fifth career pole and settled with a second tour of 43.88sec. Twenty-eight-year old Edin (above) had to rely on his second lap and the Swede clocked a time of 43.94sec to push Torrente further down the starting order.
Al-Qemzi (below) soaked up the local support and was next on the course. The Emirati stormed to the top of the leader board with stunning laps of 43.33sec and 43.25sec to claim provisional pole. Strømøy ran Torrente close to pole in India in November and the Norwegian opened her account with a tour of 43.71sec and stormed to pole with a 43.18sec stunner, much to the delight of the pit area.
All eyes were on Stark and the third Team Abu Dhabi driver opened with a 43.63sec lap to slot into third. The Swede then claimed pole with a 42.81sec flyer to shatter Strømøy’s dream.
2018 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi – BRM Qualifying times
1. Erik Stark (SWE) Team Abu Dhabi 42.81sec
2. Marit Strømøy (NOR) Emirates Racing Team 43.18sec
3. Thani Al-Qemzi (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 43.25sec
4. Jonas Andersson (SWE) Team Amaravati 43.88sec
5. Erik Edin (SWE) Team Amaravati 43.94sec
6. Shaun Torrente (USA) Team Abu Dhabi 44.13sec
7. Ahmed Al-Hameli (UAE) Victory Team 45.51sec
8. Peter Morin (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team 45.65sec
9. Alex Carella (ITA) Victory Team 45.75sec
10. Bartek Marszalak (POL) Emirates Racing Team 45.98sec
11. Sami Selio (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team 46.05sec
12. Francesco Cantando (ITA) Blaze F1 Team 46.06sec
13. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Tea 46.26sec
14. Duarte Benavente (PRT) F1 Atlantic Team 46.95sec
15. Filip Roms (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team 47.55sec
16. Grant Trask (AUS) F1 Atlantic Team 48.20sec
17. Cédric Deguisne (FRA) Maverick F1 Team 48.22sec
18. Simone Schuft (DEU) Blaze F1 Team 52.32sec
Sutthipan Sookbuangbon (THI) Maverick F1 Team DNS
2018 UIM F1 H2O Pole Position Championship – standings after round 6:
1. Erik Stark (SWE) Team Abu Dhabi 87pts
2. Shaun Torrente (USA) Team Abu Dhabi 65pts
3. Thani Al-Qemzi (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 57pts
4. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team 42pts
5. Marit Strømøy (NOR) Emirates Racing Team 35pts
6. Jonas Andersson (SWE) Team Amaravati 28pts
7. Alex Carella (ITA) Victory Team 24pts
8. Ahmed Al-Hameli (UAE) Victory Team 21pts
9. Erik Edin (SWE) Team Sweden/Team Amaravati 14pts
9. Peter Morin (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team 14pts
11. Bartek Marszalak (POL) Emirates Racing Team 12pts
12. Francesco Cantando (ITA) Blaze F1 Team 9pts