Sharjah GP
The Sharjah Grand Prix is set to witness some exhilarating action at the Khalid Lagoons this weekend. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The picturesque Khalid Lagoon will be buzzing with activity when the Sharjah World Championship Week begins on Friday. A total of 22 drivers will be competing to claim the top honours in UIM F1H20 World Championship title at the Sharjah Grand Prix.

The final rounds of the Sharjah Grand Prix, set to take place on Saturday and Sunday, will witness an exhilarating contest between elite world-class drivers. Three UAE teams are among the 10 competing for the title, held under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, and Chairman of the Sharjah Executive Council,

Teams' Championship at stake

Team Abu Dhabi comprises American Sean Torrente (Boat 1), Emirati Thani Al Qamzi (Boat 2), and Rashid Al Qamzi (Boat 5), while Dutchman Ferdinand Zandbergen (Boat 12) and Finn Sami Selio Boat 11) represent the Sharjah Team. The Victory Team consists of Emirati Ahmed Al Fahim (Boat 3) and Swedish Eric Stark (Boat 4).

This weekend’s race will decide the outcome of the Teams’ Championship and Fast Lap and Pole Position trophies after Team Sweden’s Jonas Andersson clinched his second world title in Sardinia with a round to spare.

Victory  UIM F1H20
Victory team's Swedish driver Eric Stark will be hoping to give his team a winning finish this season. Image Credit: Source: UIM F1H20

This year’s UIM F1H2O World Championship has been fought out over four rounds so far and the Sharjah finale will draw the curtain on an enthralling season, which has seen drivers competing in Indonesia, China, France and Italy.

Narrow loss in 2022

Andersson won his first world title in 2021 and narrowly missed out on a repeat success in Sharjah last year. But the Swedish veteran came back at the start of the 2023 season focused and even more determined to win another title. He led early October’s Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy from start-to-finish to duly confirm a second Drivers’ Championship. That result came on the back of an impressive victory at the Grand Prix of France on the River Saone in Macon and victory at the Grand Prix of Zhengzhou, China after a modest eighth-place finish at the opening round in Indonesia.

Team Abu Dhabi has been the dominant force in the modern era of the UIM F1H2O World Championship and has won the Teams’ Championship six times in the last seven seasons (2015, 2017-2019 and 2021-2022). But they are currently 21 points adrift of Team Sweden and needing podium finishes to stand any chance of defending the title. The Victory Team’s Erik Stark and Ahmed Al Fahim are fifth in the rankings, albeit 27 points behind the leading Team Sweden.

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Finn Sami Selio Boat will represent the Sharjah Team in the World Championship. Image Credit: Source: UIM F1H20

While Andersson basks in the glory of his second world title, the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship is still up for grabs and five racers from as many teams can still mathematically secure second spot.

Dutchman Ferdinand Zandbergen has been the Sharjah Team’s most consistent performer in 2023 and the winner of his first race in San Nazzaro last year has delivered three successive podium finishes (third in China, second in France and third in Olbia) after failing to finish in Indonesia. Currently tied with Andersson for the F1H2O Fast Lap Trophy, the Dutchman leads Stark by four points and knows that staying ahead of the Swede could be enough to secure the runner-up spot.

Global tourism appeal

Khaled Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), said: “Sharjah has been bringing world champions and marine sport enthusiasts for 22 years in one place, which translates the vision and directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to boost the emirate’s global tourism appeal.

“Sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism, accounting for about 10 per cent of global tourism spending, with a projected growth rate of 17.5 per cent between 2023-2030. Therefore, this championship represents a great opportunity for Sharjah to strengthen its global reputation as a distinctive destination, hosting major events throughout the year, promoting the emirate’s attractiveness and capabilities that support various vital sectors and the national economy,” he added.

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American Sean Torrente will be eager to give Team Abu Dhabi Team their seventh Teams Championship. Image Credit: Source: UIM F1H20

Officials at H2O Racing have made minor tweaks to the race format that was announced recently. The one-hour free practice on Friday afternoon will run to its usual format with all boats on the water at the same time.

BRM Qualifications then take centre stage on Saturday morning and a similar format will be used to previous races, with all boats racing together in Q1, followed by Q2 to the usual format to determine the final six boats for the Q3 pole position session. This will also decide the outcome of the UIM F1H2O Pole Position Trophy.

Massive advancement by Sharjah

Two 15-minute Sprint races (A and B) will then follow on Saturday afternoon with the line-up and starting orders determined by the morning’s qualifying sessions.

There will no longer be a second qualifying session on Sunday morning. The results of BRM Qualifying will determine the starting order for the Grand Prix. Competitors will be able to benefit from a final one-hour practice session before the traditional parade lap and the 2023 Road to Sharjah-Grand Prix of Sharjah takes centre stage on Sunday afternoon.

During the press conference on Thursday, Nicolo Di San Germano, UIM F1 H2O promoter, expressed his deep admiration for the massive advancement Sharjah has achieved in its overall quality hosting this championship for 22 years.

“The UAE is a strategic partner for major global tournaments, especially marine sports. Sharjah has become a destination for champions and serves as a leader in accelerating the pace of the championship’s success, year after year,” Germano added.