After over four months of inactivity, the UIM F1 H20 World Championship roars back into life with the 16th Grand Prix of Portugal on the Arade River in Portimao this weekend.
Team Abu Dhabi will field three boats in the highest echelon of the sport for the first time in a bid to win back the Teams’ Championship that it missed out on last year and to try to and win the prestigious Drivers’ Championship.
Joining three-time World Champion Alex Carella and his experienced Emirati team-mate Thani Al-Qemzi will be the talented young Rashed Al-Qemzi, the runaway winner of last year’s UIM F4-S Trophy that ran as a feeder series to the UIM F1 H20 Championship.
The team operating out of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC) will join 16 other drivers from a further eight teams and nine countries to decide the outcome of a championship that starts in Portugal and heads on through France and China and finishes with races in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in December.
Team Abu Dhabi face fierce competition from the likes of triple World Champion Philippe Chiappe, two-time winner Sami Selio, and the likes of the Victory Team’s new pairing of Shaun Torrente and Ahmed Al-Hameli.
Newcomers on the scene include Peter Morin, the multiple French and World Endurance Champion.
Tipped by many to win last year’s title, thanks to the fearless approach of Carella and the fact that they won the Teams’ Championship in 2015, Team Abu Dhabi suffered their fair share of misfortunes.
Carella eventually finished fifth behind Chiappe, Torrente, Jonas Andersson and Selio, but pre-season testing has given the Italian from Piacenza the incentive to come back even more determined than ever this year, under the watchful eye of multiple World Champion and team manager Guido Cappellini.
The 31-year-old has a remarkable record in the highest echelon of single-seater racing. In only 45 races – since his debut in 2010 – the Italian has won three world titles, claimed 24 podiums and won 12 races.
Last year was disappointing for Thani Al-Qemzi, but the experienced 38-year-old Abu Dhabi driver is a veteran of 121 Grand Prix and has seven wins and 13 second places to his name since making his debut in 2000.
He retains the number five boat, while Rashed Al-Qemzi is handed what he hopes will be lucky number seven.
The 25-year-old rookie stormed to the 2016 UIM F4-S Championship title with a race meeting to spare and that enabled him to make his first ever F1 H2O appearance at last December’s Grand Prix of Sharjah.
He was running as high as 14th until falling foul of technical issues on lap 12. Al-Qemzi has tested extensively in Abu Dhabi in the close season to gain more race boat experience.
Engine issues cost the team dearly in 2016, but a new organisational structure within Team Abu Dhabi has given responsibility of that to Cappellini’s own team at the expense of Brendan Power and the team heads to Portugal with a clean slate, three DACs and a point to prove.
Technical scrutineering and the first free practice session take centre stage on Friday, but the real meat of the action gets underway with F1 BRM Qualifications from 13.00hrs (GMT +1) on Saturday.
Additional practice is permitted on Sunday morning. The 16th Grand Prix of Portugal fires into life at 13.30hrs (GMT +1).
2017 Grand Prix of Portugal – list of entries (unofficial):
1. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) – CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team
2. Peter Morin (FRA) – CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team
3. Ahmed Al-Hameli (UAE) – Victory Team
4. Shaun Torrente (USA) – Victory Team
5. Thani Al-Qemzi (UAE) – Team Abu Dhabi
6. Alex Carella (UAE) – Team Abu Dhabi
7. Rashed Al-Qemzi (UAE) – Team Abu Dhabi
9. Grant Trask (AUS) – F1 Atlantic Team
10. Duarte Benavente (PRT) – F1 Atlantic Team
11. Sami Selio (FIN) – Mad Croc Baba Racing
12. Filip Roms (FIN) – Mad Croc Baba Racing
14. Jonas Andersson (SWE) – Team Sweden
15. Erik Stark (SWE) – Team Sweden
23. Bartek Marszalak (POL) – Blaze Performance Team
24. Francesco Cantando (ITA) – Blaze Performance Team
50. Marit Stromoy (NOR) – EMIC Racing Team
51. Mike Szymura (DEU) – EMIC Racing Team
73. Cédric Deguisne (FRA) – Maverick F1
74. Amaury Jousseaume (FRA) – Maverick F1