Sami Seliö, the Sharjah Team number one driver will start from pole position for the Grand Prix of France in Macon Val de Saone following a terrific battle with both Team Abu Dhabi racers.
It certainly was a day of mixed fortunes for the Sharjah Team with both Seliö and Ferdinand Zandbergen making it into the final qualifying session Q3. The only other team to get both drivers into Q3 were their championship rivals Team Abu Dhabi. They were joined by only one of the four French drivers entered for their home Grand Prix and that was Peter Morin from the China CTIC Team along with the Finnish driver Alec Weckstrom from Gillman Racing.
This season they have changed the format in Q3, where the top six boats from Q2 instead of running two laps one by one in reverse order dictated by the times set in Q2 now run all together for ten minutes. The reigning World Champion Jonas Andersson just missed out on a place the top six by 0.07 seconds and he will start tomorrow in seventh position ahead of Marit Stromoy and Philippe Chiappe, who has announced that this season will be his last one in F1H2O.
As the final ten minutes of qualifying got underway Zandbergen headed out onto the course to set a time but as he was entering the circuit, he got caught out by the wash created ironically by Seliö and barrel rolled his BaBa hull. It certainly was a disappointing end to what had been a fabulous qualifying session for the young Dutch driver.
When Seliö spoke to PRW he said,
I know he has the pace. It was just a frustrating ‘rookie’ mistake to make especially when there were only five other boats on the circuit at the time. The important thing is that he’s fine and there was no damage to his BaBa hull. The mechanics will change over the electrics and check over the engine because it would be an absolute shame if we needed to change it over as he would then drop to the back of the grid which would totally compromise his race.
With Zandbergen safely ashore Seliö went out and posted a time of 32.20 around the tight 1500 metre Macon circuit. Just like in the previous two qualifying sessions this became the time for everyone else to beat. With five minutes remaining Team Abu Dhabi’s Shaun Torrente set the second fastest time, then lap after lap he tried in vain to snatch pole position off Seliö. As the time was ebbing away Torrente was getting closer and closer eventually coming within 0.11 seconds of pole before Seliö went out and bettered his own time posting a 32.02.
Setting his twenty-sixth F1 career pole position Seliö had remained on the outside of the circuit just in case his time was bettered. He told PRW,
I was just waiting to see if they could catch me. Honestly, I am so relieved because it has been a long while since I was last on pole as there was always some minor problem that would get in the way. I feel confident enough now to really race the boat hard with no nagging feeling in the back of my mind feeling that something is about to fail. It’s great to get pole position in my pocket, now I must make the most of it around this challenging course come Sunday afternoon.
Both Torrente and Al Qemzi will have Seliö in their sights as they start from second and third positions. Going into this weekend’s opening round they were strongly fancied to deliver a fifth consecutive world team title to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
Torrente had started the weekend in confident style, setting the fastest time in the previous day’s opening practice session as he put behind him last year’s disappointing third-place finish.
Al Qemzi has even more reason not to look back, after seeing his bid for a first world title fall short by a solitary point just over six months ago. He is using every bit of his twenty-two-years of F1H2O experience to make his mark in France.
The way the championship ended last season was rough, so while it was definitely not the way I wanted it to end, at the same time, I was super proud of the team. Sometimes, when things don’t go right, you really find out what your team is all about. It was just a matter of ‘Let’s get this done’, and we came really close. It’s the first year that I’ve raced for Abu Dhabi that I wasn’t the World Champion, so let’s correct that and make it the only year.
The drivers will be back out mid Sunday morning for the one-hour F1 warm up session starting at 11:15. That will be followed later in the afternoon with the parade lap at 15:45 before the start of the UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of France at 16:05.