Monday, 14 May, Portimao (Portugal): The prestigious UIM F1H2O World Championship launches into its 35th season this coming weekend at the Grand of Portugal in Portimao, 18-20 May, where the first markers will be laid down at the start of what promises to be a fascinating season-long fight to win the most coveted title in world powerboat racing.
The team-driver line-ups for 2018 are almost unrecognisable after a prolific pre-season of cockpit reshuffles that began the moment the chequered flag dropped in Sharjah to close out 2017.
Nine teams and 19 drivers from 12 countries make up the 2018 entry which boasts three multiple world champions and nine drivers who have climbed onto the top step of the podium. Remarkably, of the nine teams on parade in the paddock, six field a revised driver line-up.
Of the current driver line-ups three have conquered the ‘Arade’ to take the top step of the podium; three-time world champion Philippe Chiappe winning there for the last two years and unbeaten in Portugal for the last three , Ahmed Al Hameli winning in 2010 and Race 1 in 2009, his then teammate Thani Al Qemzi winning race 2.
Much of the attention in Portimao is likely to focus on the fortunes and the intense inter-UAE team rivalry following the straight driver switch of Alex Carella and Shaun Torrente.
Four-time world champion Alex Carella starts his ninth season on the tour and the defence of his title at Victory Team lining up alongside Ahmed Al Hameli, the Dubai outfit pinning their 2018 hopes on a new boat designed and built in-house. Carella bidding for his first win on the Arade, Al Hameli a third.
Last year’s pole-sitter in Portimao Shaun Torrente lines up with the defending Team World Champions Abu Dhabi, a title they have won twice in the last three years under the guidance of team manager Guido Cappellini. He is partnered by Thani Al Qemzi with young Rashed Al Qemzi completing the DAC shod attack.
Three-time champion Philippe Chiappe will be itching to get out on the water having won in Portugal for the last three years and leads an unchanged line up at CTIC F1 Shenzhen China, with Peter Morin looking to build on a solid debut season last year, picking up the ‘rookie of the year’ finishing in 12th with a best finish in sixth.
The line-up at F1 Atlantic remains the same with Duarte Benavente and Grant Trask starting their second successive season together, Benavente looking to kick-start his year with the same strong start he made in 2017, bringing his Moore Formula hull home for a podium finish at his home Grand Prix. Trask will start his second full term on the UIM F1H2O tour running in a GTR hull designed and built by his father, Bob.
Sami Selio will mark his 150th race start in Portimao, a venue where he has finished on the podium twice in the last two years. He heads up an unchanged Mad Croc BABA Racing line-up with Filip Roms getting the green light for his seventh season alongside Selio and remarkably is still one of the youngest on the tour at 24.
After making his UIM-F1H2O debut in the UAE rounds at the end of 2017, Erik Edin gets the nod and starts his first full term alongside fellow-Swede Jonas Andersson at Team Sweden.
Simone Bianca Schuft steps up into the top-flight and becomes the first German women to race in the F1H2O Championship and joins the highly experienced Francesco Cantando at Blaze Performance.
Poland’s Bartek Marszalek move to Emirates Racing sees the 34-year-old from Warsaw line up alongside teammate Marit Stromoy for the second time in his seven year stint in the championship following his debut in Portimao in 2011 in the then named Team Nautica, Stromoy taking a memorable pole position win that same yearwith Erik Stark stepping in to replace Mike Szymura at Cedric Deguisne’s Maverick Racing.
Adding to the uncertainties of any season-opener, as the Algarve Resort of Portimao prepares to host its 16th event and the 17th UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of Portugal, are the conditions drivers will face taking on the 1.937km 7-pin Arade River circuit, with the unpredictable wind, river currents and tides conspiring to produce a real test of driver skills.
Administration and scrutineering on Friday  morning is followed by a two hour practice session starting at 17:00hrs. Practice and BRM Official Qualifying on Saturday and practice and the UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of Portugal on Sunday start at 15:00hrs and 18:00hrs.
2018 UIM F1H2O TEAM & DRIVER LINE-UPS
VICTORY: 1 Alex Carella (ita/uae*) / 3 Ahmed Al Hameli (uae)
ABU DHABI: 5 Thani Al Qemzi (uae) / 6 Shaun Torrente (usa/uae*) / 35 Rashed Al Qemzi
CTIC F1 SHENZHEN CHINA: 7 Philippe Chiappe (fra) / 8 Peter Morin (fra)
F1 ATLANTIC: 9 Grant Trask (aus) / 10 Duarte Benavente (por)
MAD CROC BABA RACING: 11 Sami Selio (fin) / 12 Filip Roms (fin)
SWEDEN: 14 Jonas Andersson (swe) / 15 Erik Edin (swe)
BLAZE PERFORMANCE: 36 Francesco Cantando (ita) / 37 Simone Schuft (ger)
EMIRATES RACING: 50 Marit Stromoy (nor) / 51 Bartek Marszalek (pol)
MAVERICK F1 RACING: 73 Cedric Deguisne (fra) / 74 Erik Stark (swe)