The Team Abu Dhabi crew made what it deemed a perfect start to the 2021 Union Internationale Motonautique F1H2O World Championship on Sunday as Thani Al Qemzi earned a thrilling victory in the Grand Prix of Europe in San Nazzaro, Italy, with teammate and two-time defending world champion Shaun Torrente finishing in second, 2.78 seconds behind Al Qemzi.
Veteran Team Abu Dhabi driver Thani Al Qemzi earned his ninth F1H2O Grand Prix victory after winning in Italy to begin the 2021 season. Photos courtesy Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club
The veteran Emirati driver (right), who is trying to secure his first driver’s title 21 years after making his debut in the series, managed to survive a dramatic race on the Po River that saw four restarts. After qualifying second and fourth on Saturday behind brilliant young Italian Alberto Comparato, Al Qemzi and Torrente needed all their experience to come through on a day that produced a string of race casualties.
Comparato followed up his first pole position by making a perfect start, but after feeling the pressure from Al Qemzi for most of the race, he dropped out with technical problems on lap 16.
Swedish star Erik Stark, the 2018 championship runner-up, was the next leading contender to exit the race as the Gilman Racing driver crashed on lap 21. The next yellow flag was raised on lap 36 when Sweden’s Jonas Andersson—the 2019 championship runner-up—stopped in the middle of the circuit and the boats held under caution for some laps till the green flag.
After a third restart, Torrente, who is from Florida, powered his way past Team Sharjah’s Sami Selio to snatch second place behind Al Qemzi. Selio, a two-time world champion, rounded out the podium.
The Team Abu Dhabi duo maintained its leading positions to the finish, and the result was given even more significance by the fact that Andersson, and France’s three-time champion, Philippe Chiappe, both failed to finish.
After having to wait close to two years to start his quest for a third-straight F1H2O driver world championship, Florida’s Shaun Torrente took second behind his Team Abu Dhabi teammate.
The ninth Grand Prix victory of his long career could become one of the most significant for Al Qemzi, who has never lost belief in his ability to capture the world crown and draws inspiration from the record of his current team manager, Guido Cappellini, the 10-time world champion who won the 2009 F1H2O race in Italy—the last time the country hosted an event—ahead of second-place finisher Al Qemzi.
The Emirati driver has finished third in the championship on five occasions and has formed a brilliant partnership with Torrente. The pair has always said that its main priority is to keep the world team title at Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club.
After all the race withdrawals, the fight behind the lead trio was between France’s Peter Morin and Poland’s Bartek Marszalek in the new team Stromoy Racing who, despite engine problem during the pole position, was able to finish the race in fifth.
Maverick Racing driver Cedric Deguisne finish in seventh with his team new entry Alexander Bourgeot overpassing him in sixth and Blaze Performance duo Simone Bianca Shuft and Francesco Cantando in eight and ninth.
Despite all the incidents in the water, a huge crowd of enthusiastic fans followed the race in Italy in more than a decade from the shore. The next race of the abbreviated 2021 F1H2O season is set for December 13-18 in Sharjah, UAE.
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