With the curtain rising on the 32nd season of UIM F1 H2O World Championship competition, there will be a totally new portrait of personnel in Doha, Qatar, for this week’s season opener as the series welcomes new faces in new places and prepares to head off to new destinations over the next 10 months. The season begins Thursday with free practice in preparation for the 11th Grand Prix of Qatar on Doha Bay, which includes qualifying and racing March 13-14).
American Shaun Torrente will driving a new boat as the lone Qatar Team representative in the 2015 F1 H2O season opener.
The biggest news of the offseason came from Abu Dhabi just a few weeks ago when legendary Italian driver Guido Cappellini replaced Scott Gillman, Team Abu Dhabi’s longtime race manager. The two Hall of Fame drivers were known for their bitter 10-year rivalry as they faced off against each other from 1997 to 2007. Cappellini, who hails from Como, Italy, came away winning five titles to the four won by Gillman, who is from California. When the rivalry came to an end, the drivers displayed almost identical race records in a hectic era that historians of the sport will not forget.
Now, off the water, Gillman, who managed the Team Abu Dhabi organization for almost a decade, has decided to push on and start his own organization that will be known as the Emirates Team.
At the moment, his driver is his Team Abu Dhabi ex-pilot Ahmed Al Hameli, who started with the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club back in 2006 and has six victories in 60 race starts. A second driver is expected to join the team by the next race, which is slated for the first weekend in June somewhere in France.
Meanwhile, Cappellini persuaded old friend and three-time world champion driver Alex Carella to leave the Qatar Team and join him on Team Abu Dhabi. Carella will join Thani Al Qamzi, a 14-year veteran who has seven victories in 111 starts, in 2015 to produce a strong one-two combination in the battle for the 2015 team championship.
Carella, who has been sensational in the past four years with the Qatar Team, has 10 victories in 32 race starts during his five seasons of racing. He came into the final event last year hoping to tie the all-time mark of four straight world titles set by his new boss—Cappellini—but Carella didn’t accomplish the feat and he ended up eight points shy of CTIC China Team pilot Philippe Chiappe at season’s end as the Frenchman took home his first title.
For the Qatar Team, their lineup this weekend on home waters will be squarely focused on Florida native Shaun Torrente. The American driver comes back to Doha Bay with high hopes as he’s held the lead in the last four races and has won two of the last three Grand Prix’s held in Doha since 2013.
“Our team is very strong and we hope to start the season with a win,” said Torrente, who will be racing a new DAC hull for the first time this weekend. “We’ve spent a couple of days testing the boat and obviously we have more time before the race. I can tell you that it’s pretty promising.”
Meanwhile, new destinations also will be a big story this year with the premier stop being on the Northern region of Portugal in the ancient city of Porto on the Rio Douro (August 1-2). The 2,000-year-old city is a thrilling jumble of architectural styles from ornately tiled churches to Art Deco shops and down by the riverside the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 Bridge stands out in this 2000 year old city.
With new cities in Europe and a possible site or two in Asia shaping up as possibilities for the near future along with the traditional stops in Liuzhou, China, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, 2015 could be the start of a new era for the UIM F1 H2O World Championship.
You can follow all the “live” qualifying action and race-day competition by going to the www.f1h2o.com website.