H2O Racing
Union Internationale Motonautique


May 9, 2024

Thursday, May 9:  Renato Molinari is one of the most famous names in the history of world powerboat racing. The Italian won the inaugural F1 World Powerboat Championship in 1981 and went on to win again in 1983 and 1984, securing 16 Grand Prix wins in the process.


But these three successes against formidable opposition in the early days of what has now become the flagship UIM F1H2O World Championship were just the tip of the iceberg in an illustrious career that saw the man from Nesso win a staggering 18 World Championships.


The son of Angelo Molinari, who was a highly esteemed boat designer and racer himself, Molinari was born in February 1946 and went on to achieve legendary status in the sport of powerboat racing. He was eventually honoured with the Golden Collar for Sporting Merit, the highest honour awarded for sporting excellence by the Italian National Olympic Committee.


In May 2015, a plaque dedicated to him and his achievements was included in the Walk of Fame of Italian Sport in Rome – an award reserved for Italian athletes who have distinguished themselves on the international stage. He also earned the Chevron Sportsman of the Year award on five occasions.


Molinari started racing in 1964 at the age of 18 in a race in Rome and went on to earn 18 world titles across a wide range of sporting disciplines, 13 European titles and four national awards in the most prestigious classes. His first international victory came at the Paris Six Hours with his cousin Cesare Scotti.


In a race career that spanned 22 years, Renato also won the 24 Hours of Rouen and the Six Hours of Paris on four occasions, three wins and a record in the Pavia-Venice race, two in the Nine Hours of Parker with the likes of Bob Herring, a three-time winner of the Berlin Six Hours, as well as earning the Duke of York Trophy for his racing achievements at the Bristol Grand Prix with three victories in 1971, 1977 and 1980. His partnership with Herring was a successful one and they designed a new boat that was nicknamed the ‘Italian secret weapon’ – the renowned picklefork cat. The duo also stunned their rivals with the potent T3-V6 Mercury Black Max boat at several races.


In one of the 24 Hours of Rouen races, Molinari and his team-mates Angelo Vassena, Augusto Panzeri and Ettore Cagnani were entered in the R3 class (Racing Inboard 1500-2000cc) in a Molinari boat powered by an Abarth-tuned and fuel-injected Fiat engine. They annihilated the opposition after being 44 laps behind the leaders at one point. The quartet eventually finished the race 42 laps clear of French rivals Jean-Pierre Masurier and Bernard Balkou. Renato last competed in Rouen in 1984 and retired his Mercedes diesel-powered hull after a collision with Jean-Luc Izard.


In addition to success in what is now the F1H2O series, Renato earned four world titles in the O-Unlimited series between 1980 and 1983 and five in the ON 200cc class in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1976 and 1980. In addition, he secured a pair of O-850 outboard titles in 1976 and 1979, the outboard O-1500 Corsa Championship title in 1977 and in the inboard Corsa 2000 in 1981. In his heyday in the F1 World Powerboat Championship, Molinari’s boats had Martini branding alongside his late team-mates Bob Spalding and Enrico ‘Chicco’ Vidoli.


He made a much-vaunted switch from racing Mercury-powered boats to the Evinrude powerplants in 1977, winning the Parker race with Herring on his first start with the new OMC engine. He became known for racing a competitive and expensive aluminium boat on the world stage, only for OMC to ask him to revert to a wooden hull, the same specification that he sold to customers.


After calling a halt to his F1H2O career - following the deaths of four racers in as many consecutive months - master race tactician Molinari moved into Class 1 Offshore racing and entered the UIM Hall of Fame alongside Bill Seebold in 2009.


In 1985, he became General Manager of Team Nordica with racers Barry Woods and Vidoli and raced his self-designed Falcon 46 catamaran, winning the Monaco Grand Prix in the boat in 1986. He also built catamarans for Mercury and OMC and set up a racing team called Martini and Rossi.


As far as the UIM F1H2O World Championship is concerned, he will go down in history as the first ever winner of the John Player F1 World Powerboat Championship, the predecessor to the current championship that resumes on the island of Sardinia in his native Italy on June 14th-16th