Ahmad Al Hameli will be joined by world champion Alex Carella in the two blue boats when the F1 season gets under way. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Victory Team’s talented driver Ahmad Al Hameli is banking on the team’s pre-season headstart to play his role in delivering a first-ever world crown when the 2018 UIM F1H2O World Championship takes place in Portugal this weekend.

Al Hameli will be joined by four-time defending world champion Alex Carella in the two blue boats when the F1 season gets under way on the Arade River in Portimao, Portugal, from May 18-20.

This is Victory Team’s third full year in the UIM F1H2O World Championship following their trial run in 2015. Their first full season came in 2016 with American Shaun Torrente — now with Team Abu Dhabi — ending runner-up on the overall drivers’ standings as Victory Team claimed a third place with 86 points in the teams’ standings.

Last season, Victory Team weathered a slow start and a series of unfortunate incidents to finish fourth in the teams’ standings with 58 points. But this year, with brand-new home-made boats in Jebel Ali, Al Hameli is hoping for the best.

“Our confidence going into this week is very high. We have a brand-new boat built by our team and we’ve had some fantastic testing in Dubai. I know we are going to be competitive, and all that we need is a bit of luck during 2018 so that we can improve on the team’s performance in F1 powerboat racing,” Al Hameli told Gulf News from Italy on Wednesday.

Since his debut for Team Abu Dhabi in 2006, Al Hameli is a veteran of 73 races. He has won seven times and picked up a further eleven podiums, and his best has been a fourth place in the drivers’ standings in 2011. Considered one of the most talented men in the world of F1 racing, Al Hameli has been through tough times especially after he had to battle with a brain tumour in 2012 while leading the championship. However, the fighter that he is, the Abu Dhabi-born lad returned stronger than ever.

“Personally, I am ready. I just need a little bit of luck. Portimao is the first race of the season and from experience we all know that there are always surprises in the opening race. One really doesn’t know what is going on until the race is done,” Al Hameli expressed.

“The good thing for us is that we’ve made a great and early start to the season and that is one thing to be happy about. For sure, our aim is to be at the top of the lot as we have worked really hard to be where we are. In the process we have discovered totally new things about the boats. I am sure we will get to understand the boats better after the first race. For now, we are just waiting for the green flag,” he added.

After routine administration and scrutineering formalities, drivers will be permitted a two-hour extra free practice session from 8pm UAE time on Friday. Official free practice will then start at 6pm UAE on Saturday and precedes F4 free practice, timed trials and the first of the F4 races, starting at 8.10pm. F1 qualifying then takes centre-stage on the tricky river course from 9pm UAE time. The timetable will be repeated on Sunday afternoon with F1 free practice preceding F4 practice, timed trials and the second of the F4 races, before the 2018 Grand Prix of Portugal roars into life at 9pm.