Victory Team's Erik Stark in action in Sharjah. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sharjah: Team Sweden’s Jonas Andersson outpaced former world champion Philippe Chiappe and Erik Stark to stay on course for a maiden F1 world title while claiming pole position at the 2019 UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of Sharjah on the Buhairah Corniche on Thursday.

Headed into a two-man battle against defending world champion Shaun Torrente, Andersson’s opening lap of 45.26 seconds was just enough to finish a mere 0.05 secs ahead of CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team’s Chiappe, while Victory Team’s new driver Stark followed in third a further 0.19 secs behind.

Following a weather-affected opening round in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Torrente has built his 2019 season with wins in Portimao (Portugal) and Xiamen (China) while also taking a second in Evian (France) and a fourth in the first round in Xiamen to lead the standings with 64 points. Close on his heels is Team Sweden’s Andersson with 59 points following a win in Evian along with a second in Xiamen and two third spots in Xiamen and Portimao.

On Saturday, Andersson needs to go all out and win the race. “Only half the job has been done. I didn’t have any good feeling during the morning practice sessions. So we changed a few things and we were at our best,” Andersson told Gulf News.

“For me, it was extremely important to start from pole position in Sharjah. I already have the second position to my name, but it is the world championship that we need to take back to Sweden.”

Driving a DAC hull, the 45-year-old driver from Orebro, Sweden has had 21 career podiums going into the final race in Sharjah. His last race win came at the third round of the UIM F1H2O in Evian, France, on July 7. “This is a chance of a lifetime and I’ve got to make full use of this opportunity. The pole position is done and I’ve got to just ensure I am at the top when we reach turn one on Saturday,” the Swede said.

Torrente, the defending world F1 champion from Miami, struggled but still managed to come in fifth with a best lap of 46.25 secs in the super shoot-out, just behind Team Abu Dhabi teammate Thani Al Qamzi, while Team Sharjah’s Sami Selio settled in sixth for the race start at 4pm on Saturday.

Torrente was not too stressed about the outcome. “The second lap was awesome, and I think we’ve got a good set-up at the moment. I’ve got to just focus on Andersson and beat him on Saturday. It will be like a race within a race,” the Team Abu Dhabi driver said.

“And then we’ve also got to consider that it’s a long race and both of us need to finish the race,” Torrente added.

Chiappe was glad to be in the mix after a lull. “All we need is a safe start on Saturday. I don’t want to spoil his [Andersson’s] chances for a world championship title,” he cautioned.

“But if I have a chance to slip through and contest for the race win, then why not?”

Earlier, Victory Team’s Stark was the early pacesetter during the two practice sessions while bidding for a seventh career pole position. In a tight opening practice, only 0.98 seconds separated the top seven drivers with the Stark coming home with a best lap of 46.09 secs around the 2,057-metre circuit. Stark improved on his time to go quickest with a best 45.58, while Emirates Racing Team’s engine change helped as Marit Stromoy came in second quickest with 46.10 secs ahead of the consistent Chiappe with 46.18 secs.

“Overall it has been an amazing day for the team,” Stark remarked.

“We’ve shown a lot of improvement since China, and I have a good feeling in this new boat. I made a small mistake in Q3 after I over-drove the boat and paid the price, or we could have been on pole,” he added.

Friday will witness the third and final moto of the UIM-ABP Aquabikes Championship, while the Grand Prix of Sharjah for the F1 boats will be held on Saturday.

Qualifying (Top 5)

1. Jonas Andersson (Sweden) 51.79s

2. Philippe Chiappe (France) 45.31

3. Erik Stark (Sweden) 45.45

4. Thani Al Qamzi (UAE) 45.47

5. Shaun Torrente (US/UAE) 46.25