For the second year in a row the opening round of the F1H2O World Championship has left Sami Selio, the lead driver of the Mad-Croc BaBa Racing Team, reflecting on what might have been. This time though it wasn’t mechanical issues that lead to the Finnish driver’s downfall.
It was always going to be a challenging weekend, with a strong south easterly breeze producing some very choppy condition around the five pin 1.76 kilometre course laid out in the Gulf of Doha. The first casualty of the weekend was the time table, after the UIM Officials declared the course unsafe to proceed with Qualifying on Friday afternoon. This was switched to Saturday morning, when it was hoped the conditions would be more favourable to race.
Following the first qualifying session Selio had posted the second fastest time, less than a second off that posted by the reigning World Champion Philippe Chiappe. Selio then moved to the top of the timing screens during the second session, though this time he had the Qatar Team driver, Shaun Torrente, less then two-hundredths of second behind him, the pressure was on. With Selio last out in the top six ‘Shoot-Out’ he knew the time to beat if he was going to claim his twenty third pole position. As he was completing his first of two laps his BaBa hull violently hooked and Selio smashed his head against the side of the cockpit. This left him dazed, although fortunately he was still able to carry on but his time was only good enough for the fifth spot on the starting grid.
Some six hours later the sixteen drivers that had entered the 11th Grand Prix of Qatar lined up on the starting grid. This was quickly reduced down the fifteen, after the Austrian driver, Bernd Enzenhofer, developed engine problems on his way to the grid.
With the water conditions still far from ideal, the UIM Officials opted for a rolling start rather than a blast off the start pontoon. So after just three very cautious laps the race finally got under way and it wasn’t long before the pole sitter Torrente had opened up a gap of five seconds from Chiappe in second and Ahmed Al Hameli, now racing for the newly established Emirates Team, back in third. Selio was soon involved in a battle for fourth place with the Swedish driver Erik Stark and this would last for the next twenty laps.
As Selio was starting his twenty first lap he decided to take a wider line around the outside of the course in an attempt to keep his speed up. This allowed him to finally get past Stark. Such was his momentum he also caught and past Al Hameli but then disaster struck the Finn. Coming into the left hand turn his BaBa hull hit a roller and nearly nose dived into the Arabian Sea. “I felt the boat jump left so I corrected it” said Selio. “Al Hameli also hit the roller and was left with no way of avoiding me. It was a big impact that tore off most of Al Hameli’s right hand sponson and half of my left one. It was a racing accident, these thing happen when you are really pushing for a good result.”
With Selio safely ashore, the medical team insisted that Al Hameli went for a check-up at the near by hospital even though his condition wasn’t life threatening.
Meanwhile the race resumed under the yellow flag with both Torrente and Chiappe shadowing the pace-boat. With fourteen laps still to run it would only be a matter of time before the green flag was raised and racing recommenced or so most people thought.
In the end that wasn’t to be the case and Torrente had a gentle stroll to the chequered flag. “I can’t understand why they didn’t restart the race” said Selio. “If the conditions had suddenly got worse then ok, but they hadn’t. In fact most of the drivers had got used to them. If the conditions were that bad why did they even start the race in the first place?”
“Perhaps the UIM Officials need to review their procedure” continued Selio, “because they only ask the lead driver if he thinks the conditions are raceable. Sometimes he will say yes, they are fine but that might be ok for him as he only has clear water ahead. They need to ask the guy back in the middle of the pack to get a better idea.”
With the second round of the World Championship moving back to Europe in three months time, for the French Grand Prix taking place at Evian, the teams should now have plenty of time to fix their battered boats and give their drivers plenty of time to recover.
Result for the F1H2O Grand Prix of Qatar
1. Shaun Torrente USA Qatar Team 36 laps
2. Philippe Chiappe FRA CTIC China Team 36 laps
3. Erik Stark SWE Team Nautica 36 laps
4. Jonas Andersson SWE Team Sweden 36 laps
5. Alex Carella ITA Team Abu Dhabi 36 laps
6. Marit Stromoy NOR Team Nautica 36 laps
7. Youssef Al Rubayan KUW F1 Atlantic Team 35 laps
8. Filip Roms FIN Mad-Croc BaBa Racing 35 laps
9. David Del Pin ITA Team Abu Dhabi 35 laps
10. Duarte Benavente POR F1 Atlantic Team 34 laps