ABU DHABI - Saturday, January 10, 2015 - In a ten month drama, that saw the UIM F1 H2O World Championship series come down to a three driver match-up at the final race of the year for a world title in late December, French pilot Philippe Chiappe stood tall and captured his first ever F1 Gold Medal in 12 years of trying with the victory at the 15th Anniversary Grand Prix of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
The driver from Rouen, gave his sponsors, the CTIC China Team, the first ever international motor sports racing Championship for China, as he gained the "hot hand" in winning the pivotal final two Grand Prix's of the year and claiming the crown as the number one driver on water in the world at his 92nd career event start.
The 51 year-old competitor who began in F1 back in 2002 after a long career in endurance racing, got stronger as the season went along.
Back to back pole performances in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah "sealed the deal" while never looking back leading every lap of the final two races as he finished with four podium finishes in five starts on the season never taking lower than a second place all year when completing a Grand Prix.
His only blemish on the year was in Liuzhou in China when he qualified a lowly eighth and dropping out early in the event in 17th place.
His season was sparked by new innovative technology, spearheaded by the dazzling boat builder from his native France with David Moore, who give him three new updated hulls throughout the season with the final example being a "missile" than no other team could match.
Philippe set the pace, in both Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, earning back to back wins after taking pole position at each event.
The likeable driver from Northern France now has three career victories along with 19 podiums. He has missed reaching the podium just once in his last eight finishes going back to the first race of the year in 2013 in Brazil. Philippe finished the year number one with 70 points on the campaign winning by an eight point margin.
All the momentum of the first half the season however, was pointing to the three-time reigning World Champion Alex Carella of the Qatar Team. The young Italian had reeled of two straight victories coming "out of the box" at the start of the campaign at Doha, Qatar and again in Liuzhou, China and was looking invincible.
Getting his hands on the latest DAC hull from the shops in Como, Italy, the driver who has now won four of his last nine starts and reaching the podium in 12 of his last 17 races, looked to be a "lock-in" for the title.
Then the wheels fell off the cart!
At the season's third event at the Grand Prix of the Middle East back at his home waters on Doha Bay, the driver from Piacenza struggled with the handling of the boat in rough water conditions.
Having qualified third, Alex eventually was disqualified for uncontrollably taking out both buoys that made up the fifth and final corner on the two kilometer circuit while chasing for the lead of the race.
This mistake, on the circuit he had dominated back in March at the Grand Prix of Qatar, now, not only saw Alex's dreams of immortality being washed away, with a possible record tying fourth title in four years now in doubt, but falling behind his teammate in the points race as well.
A fifth in qualifying, followed by a fifth place result and the first time in 12 finishes that he didn't reach the podium, in Abu Dhabi, meant he would be trailing Chiappe in the points race going into the final event in Sharjah, having to pull off a "must win" to take his fourth championship title.
He came close, but was out dueled by Chiappe in Sharjah both in qualifying and the race and taking runner-up in the championship for the first time since 2010 finishing with 62 points.
The second half of the Qatar Team belonged to American driver Shaun Torrente, who was for the second season in a row in position to win his first F1 H2O World Title after having won three North American titles in his career.
The talented driver from Florida, once again showed he is one of the most swift competitors in the world.
Shaun ended up leading two of the first three Grand Prix's on the season. However, once again the racing gods were not always on his side.
At the opening round at his teams home event in Doha and out in front ahead of the field when a mechanical problem forced him to retire with just six laps left to be run and 20 possible points going up in smoke at the same time.
A qualifying mistake in China while pushing for the Q3 top six "shootout" spot sent him to ninth on the grid at the start. He charged his way to fourth in the race. Now he was chasing his teammate Carella by 31 points with just three races to be run and slim hopes for a chance at the title.
However, it all came together for the 36 year-old driver who cruised to victory on Doha Bay at the Grand Prix of the Middle East in November from pole position putting himself back in the mix for a championship after his teammate was earning no points.
Shaun finished the final two races with back to back podiums in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah but couldn't match the speed of the French driver Chiappe finishing third in the title with 56 points on three straight podium performances.
Taking fourth in the title run for the second straight year was two-time World Champion Sami Selio of Finland as the Mad Croc Baba Team driver entered the season with new boat that seemed not to his liking.
Sami struggled most of year, finding it hard to determine the hulls "sweet spot" earning just one podium in Doha in November while taking three top-five results on the season.
The veteran driver from Helsinki, who has just completed his 16th year in F1 H2O, has more pole positions in qualifying than any other active driver currently on the tour with 22. But, after back to back second starting positions at the first two races, he couldn't find that magical formula again and only his fourth starting position in Sharjah was his last top-five performance of 2014.
Sami came home with 33 points on the campaign and now has 751.5 points on his career which places him fourth all-time in the sport only Italian Guido Cappellini, Scott Gillman of the USA and Francesco Cantando of Italy have earned more points during a career.
Speaking of Cantando, the 18 year veteran finished fifth in points with 28. The Motorglass Team pilot failed to reach the podium for a second straight season despite coming close at the opening round in Doha with a fourth, followed by a pair of top-fives, again in Doha in November and Sharjah in December.
"Franz" reached the top-six Q3 "Shootout" once in China with a sixth and finished all but one race. In Liuzhou he got caught up in a skirmish on the opening lap at the commitment buoy at the start with a fellow driver ending his day with a damaged boat.
The 40 year-old veteran, will start his 150th Grand Prix event at the opening round of the 2015 campaign, having begun his career back in 1996 in China, while earning 12 World Championship victories, which is tops for all current drivers on the tour today.
Erik Stark of Sweden earned the coveted "Rookie-of-the-Year" honor for 2014. He come over full time from the F2 series and made a quick transition to the more powerful boats of F1 in record time.
The 27 year-old pilot from Stockholm failed to finish his opening race of the season in Doha. He then got settled in nicely and surprised many followers of the sport with a solid seventh in qualifying in China and in the race, powering his way to second and his first podium in only his fourth official F1 start.
The reigning F2 World titlist never was able to equal his Liuzhou performance again. He finished sixth in Doha and eighth in Abu Dhabi before dropping out with his second mechanical issue of the year in Sharjah.
The likeable driver from Scandinavia, who led Team Nautica in points, has a bright future and it will be interesting to see what the driver who earned 23 points and finished sixth in the drivers championship can do in 2015 now that he has a few more races in his resume.
Tying for seventh in the championship was Duarte Benavente along with Bartek Marszalek with 16 points.
For the 15 year veteran from Portugal, Benavente, charged out of the gate in 2014 with a brilliant podium finish at the opening round in Doha back in March. Carrying this momentum with a fourth place qualifying start in China his luck started to change in that race as he and Cantando got together fighting for a top five position at the start of the event only to force him into retiring.
Duarte's boat delaminated on him at the next round in Doha forcing him to miss the event. He only completed one final event with a seventh in Sharjah in December. The F1 GC Atlantic Team driver with 119 starts, will continue to search for wins and top three places in the future as he focuses on the start of the 2015 campaign.
Just in his third season, the Polish driver Marszalek, who teamed with Cantando on the Motorglass organization, had five straight top ten finishes while earning career bests in 2014. His best result being a career finest fifth in Liuzhou, China. Twice he qualified 11th once in Doha and again in Abu Dhabi. These have been his best efforts in that category in his career as well.
The 31 year-old driver from Warsaw, who comes from a family of boat racers, continues to learn more and more about the sport in each lap that he completes and who gets more and more competitive at each Grand Prix.
Team Abu Dhabi teammates Ahmed Al Hameli and Thani Al Qamzi finished tied for ninth in the championship with 14 points despite racing in just three of the five events during 2014.
For the talented Ahmed, he reached the podium with a third place finish at his home event in Abu Dhabi marking the 17th time that he has done so in his 60 career starts.
In qualifying, the 35 year-old driver from Abu Dhabi had a season best fourth at his home race and another Q3 performance with a sixth starting spot in Sharjah. His battle for a top six performance was marred with his failure to finish on the Khaled Lagoon being classified 11th at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Thani Al Qamzi reached the podium in his first event of the year in China with a third place finish after starting 10th on a great run to the front.
His podium in Liuzhou marked his 27th such trip of his career to the top-three and like his friend and teammate Ahmed, finished ninth in his only other race he completed at his home event in Abu Dhabi in his 110th career start.
The youngest driver on the tour, Filip Roms of Finland, having just completed his stint in the Finnish Army, had a career best fifth place finish at the first race of the season in Doha. The 20 year-old had two more top-10 results with a seventh in Liuzhou and a ninth in Doha in November.
Filip could have had more more points, however, his failure to finish in Sharjah was only the second time in the last two seasons that his driver from Espoo didn't go the distance thus be classified 11th with 13 points at years end.
Scoring just nine points and 12th overall in the drivers table, in a real roller coaster type of year, was Swedish speedster Jonas Andersson of Team Sweden.
The driver from Fruvi, started with pole position at the years first event in Doha. He would go on to make the top-six "Shootout" four of the five events only to have reliability issues spoiling his season. He finished just once in fourth place at the Grand Prix of the Middle East in Doha.
The nine year veteran, who has four victories and 12 podiums in 68 starts, will be looking for more reliability down the stretch if he is going to make a serious run at the title in 2015.
Also finishing 12th in the standings is the multi-talented driver from Norway Marit Stromoy. She led her Team Nautica organization for another season, working tirelessly obtaining sponsorships and marketing opportunities for her racing program throughout her country from far and wide.
In qualifying as ever, Marit showed much medal gaining a fourth place starting spot off the dock to start the campaign in Doha. She finished sixth for her best race weekend of the year.
Her only other top-10 performance, was when she took a seventh in Abu Dhabi in late November after starting ninth. Finishing four of five races gave her nine points. She looks forward to improving on her total package for the upcoming campaign.
Chinese driver Ziwei "Leo" Xiong finished his second full season still heavily on the learning curve. His season got off to a hot start with a pair of top-10 performances earning eight total points and 14th in the championship.
Leo's seventh place result at the opening race is his career best after starting ninth, while a 10th at his home Grand Prix in Liuzhou and finishing the season with an eighth gives this young driver from Shenzhen hope for the future on the championship winning CTIC China Team.
His most notable moment of the year came when his engine caught fire at the Grand Prix of the Middle East in November and he had to quickly jump overboard while the Osprey rescue team put out the fire with thankfully no injures.
Kuwaiti driver Youssef Al-Rubayan had probably the most disheartened season of anyone, showing real signs of success only to fail to earn it finishing tied for 15th with just five points.
The F1 CG Atlantic Team pilot had an eye opening third place in qualifying and finishing sixth with a penalty attached in China in October as his high water mark of 2014.
The remaining four races were filled with a pair of did not finishes, because of technical issues, along with two other crashes ending his races in Doha in November and Sharjah to end the season in the water.
Youssef is a talented young driver who will be looking for more consistency as he heads for the new campaign.
Joining Youssef in 15th place was rookie driver Jesper Forss. The 21 year-old from Nikolai who dominated the F4 circuit two season's ago got his best result at the final race in Sharjah with a sixth place finish for Team Sweden.
Starting the season with a pair of DNF's, including a boat fire in Doha in November, his 6th place in Sharjah was his high water mark after charging up from the back of the grid. Jesper will be looking for more seat time in the boat in 2015 in order to start making top ten finishes a common place in the series.
The pair of Caudwell Racing drivers joined the season in Liuzhou with veteran driver Ivan Brigada in his third season with the organization joined by Tomas Cermak coming into the team with 11 career races on his resume.
The Italian, Brigada, who has a victory on the tour back in 2006 in Doha, used that knowledge to give Caudwell Racing their best finish ever, a seventh, at the Grand Prix of the Middle East on Doha Bay in November.
That result, sandwiched with two DNF's in Liuzhou and again in Abu Dhabi, were not enough for the Caudwell organization to return for the final event in Sharjah just before the holidays.
Tomas, like his teammate, had his best day also in Liuzhou with a 10th place result earning his first point of his F1 H2O career while finishing 18th in the drivers championship.
In what turned out to be shortened season because of the world politics in 2014, the campaign was another memorable one with three drivers fighting to the bitter end to capture a UIM F1 H2O World Championship title at the seasons very last stop in Sharjah.
In the end, the story will read, that veteran driver Philippe Chiappe from France, who never gave up and with a great team behind him and after 12 long years, was able to be called UIM F1 World Champion for the first time in his career.
This was a special moment for the series in it's 31st career season, and, an historic one at the same time.
It gave both the country of France their very first, UIM F1 H2O World Champion and the Peoples Republic of China their first international motor racing title! 2014 was something very magical!
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