ABU DHABI - A bit of a history lesson to put everything into perspective as to F1's emergence in China.
The dreams of opening up the world of the UIM F1 H2O World Championship to the ancient and exotic Far East country of China came 20 years ago when race teams packed up and headed six time zones East from their European bases to take up the challenge of introducing the sport to a newly enlightened nation eager to establish themselves as worldwide partners in the sport of powerboat racing.
In the fall of 1995 it all came together through the hard work of UIM F1 Promoter Nicolo di San Germano who saw the world's most populous country as a great opportunity and introduced a sport by which time was well respected around the world for it's skill and daring performed by drivers at each Grand Prix event.
The city of Hangzhou which is 200 km (120 miles) south of the countries largest city of Shanghai welcomed drivers from 15 different nations that late October weekend. Participants from as faraway as Australia, Argentina, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Belgium and even the host nation were greeted by 300,000 fans for qualifying. Those numbers only grew as more than a half-a-million for race day were on hand and were closely watched by over 5,000 uniformed policeman to keep order.
Everywhere you looked along Lake Xihu (West Lake) there were hungry autograph seekers wanting a part of the F1 Circus of drivers, mechanics, officials and worldwide media from outside the country.
"It was almost a dream," said German Michael Werner who despite having won three straight races starting the season, was trailing defending World Champion Guido Cappellini of Italy 85-82 with just two races yet to be run in that 1995 season.
"The people were so anxious to meet us and take home with them a souvenir of the race weekend," said Michael. "We had to be careful since they were always pushing against the police to get a closer look at all of us. It was like a World Cup football match final."
Young Italian driver and Cappellini's teammate Massimo Roggiero, earned the first ever pole position in F1 that weekend in China. For Massimo, it was one of seven in his career and he would start just ahead of the speedy Belgian Danny Bertels. Guido, the two-time defending World Champion would start third on the day.
The 1992 World titlist Fabrizio Bocca, was fourth quickest just ahead of Werner, who was desperate to gain more points than Cappellini this weekend, starting in fifth position. Welch driver Jonathan Jones, always a threat for a victory rounded out the top six on the start pontoon searching for his first victory of the season.
On race day, after some heated discussions about the course layout, the officials soon settled the drivers concerns and the President and Promoter San Germano brought the field of drivers around for the parade lap in the new two seater pace boat in what would be a pivotal event for the world championship decider.
The over 500,000 fans stood and cheered their new hero's, in this new to China sport on water, raced off from the start with pole sitter Roggiero leading the way early. However, Massimo's luck would soon run out as his cowling let loose and this combined with Englishman Owen Jelf's boat submarined after hitting a giant rogue wave bring the racing to a halt.
Twice more the event would be stopped with Argentinean driver Carlos Maidana thrilling the massive crowd with a spectacular loop ending his day.
Meanwhile, further along in a battle for second, Bertels got into a battle with English driver Andy Elliott who would eventually crash out stopping the race for the final time. Cappellini was awarded the victory and his third straight World Title to go along with it after 36 of the scheduled 50 lap Grand Prix were run.
The historic race weekend became a learning experience for both the teams and the spectators this very first F1 weekend on the 27-29 of October, 1995.
Since that time, nine different drivers have captured the glory of victory in the People's Republic over the years. Guido Cappellini holds the current record for the most victories with four, his last, being on his final race weekend in China at Shenzhen in 2009.
At the lovely area that surrounds Liuzhou, home to this years Grand Prix of China, it is preparing to once again be home for the scheduled race on the 4th thru the 6th of October. The 2014 race event will mark the seventh year in China's sixth most populous city on the Liu River.
Current three-year back to back World title holder Alex Carella of the Qatar Team leads the championship with 20 points. He is also the two-time defending race champion and will be wearing the "bulls eye" on his back that all the other pilots will be aiming for that weekend.
"I love coming to Liuzhou," said the young Italian. "China is always a place I can't wait to arrive at and I've had pretty good success so far here. Let's see if I can keep my good luck rolling for a third straight season."
Other winners in China who will have a say in the outcome. Three-time champion Sami Selio of the Mad Croc Baba Racing Team along with past winners Jonas Andersson of Team Sweden, Thani Al Qamzi of Team Abu Dhabi and Francesco Cantando of the Motorglass F1 Team will be chasing the young Italian all the way to the final lap of the race weekend.
Drivers from all corners of the globe will be on hand to keep the 20 year historic tradition alive for Round Two of the 2014 UIM F1 H2O World Championship and the Grand Prix of China on the fourth thru the sixth of October in Liuzhou, China.
Both official qualifying for grid positions and pole will take place on the fifth and the Grand Prix race on the sixth. Both can be viewed live around the globe via the tours official website at www.f1h2o.com and their international television feed.
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