Team Sweden’s Erik Stark – a four-time F2 World Champion – led from pole position to secure his first ever victory in F1 and leap into contention for the championship title in a race where the Victory Team’s Ahmed Al-Hameli finished third to move up to fifth in the title race.
Alex Carella’s fourth position was sufficient for the Italian to snatch an eight-point lead in the series, after Sami Selio retired with technical issues, rival Shaun Torrente also withdrew and current World Champion Philippe Chiappe finished a distant fifth.
Carella said: “It was really tough. I had a good start. Shaun and Ahmed on my side and I did not want to take risks. At the end I start to think of the championship and not the single race because Sami (Selio) and Shaun were out. I decided to stay quiet. It was a good result for me, for Thani and for Team Abu Dhabi. We are first in the championship and the Teams’ Championship, so it was a good weekend for us.”
Rashed Al-Qemzi currently leads the UIM F2 World Championship but the Team Abu Dhabi driver missed out on his first ever F1 H2O points with 11th position in the third Team Abu Dhabi boat.
Grand Prix of Harbin
Erik Stark led the 19 boats away from the start pontoon and into the 53-lap race.
Stark managed to hold his line through the first turns, as Al-Qemzi maintained second, Shaun Torrente climbed to third and Carella moved ahead of Al-Hameli and into fourth. Rashed Al-Qemzi also moved up three places to 10th as the leaders headed into lap three.
By lap nine, Stark led by 1.97 seconds from Thani Al-Qemzi, as Torrente maintained a close third and Carella, Al-Hameli and Chiappe rounded off the top six. Series leader Selio slipped to the rear of the field and retired after eight laps and the top three bunched up as they closed in on the tail-enders, but the yellow flag was raised on lap 14 while race officials replaced a turn buoy that had been taken out by Marit Stromoy several laps earlier.
The Norwegian was duly disqualified during the yellow flag stoppage, Jousseuame also withdrew, as action resumed on lap 20 with Rashed Al-Qemzi in the points for the first time in ninth place. Al-Hameli was the main beneficiary from the restart and managed to pass Torrente and Carella to snatch third, but birthday boy Torrente dropped back with technical issues and slipped behind Rashed Al-Qemzi and into ninth before retiring after lap 22.
Stark held on to his lead through halfway and began to edge slightly ahead of Thani Al-Qemzi, but the battle was between Al-Hameli and Carella for third place. Chiappe and Jonas Andersson rounded off the top six and Rashed Al-Qemzi retained eighth. The top six held station after 33 laps, but Francesco Cantando withdrew with technical issues.
Stark increased his lead to 5.33 seconds with 14 laps to run, but Rashed Al-Qemzi slipped to ninth behind Filip Roms and then lost his place in the top 10 over the next couple of laps and slipped to an eventual 11th.
Stark, on the other hand, held on over the remaining nervy laps to secure his first ever victory in F1 by the margin of 9.31 seconds, as Thani Al-Qemzi secured second and Al-Hameli held off Carella to round off the podium places.
Erik Stark said after:
What an amazing feeling. To win at last is just fantastic.
If it looked easy it wasn’t.
Thani was at me the whole time and just one mistake from me and he is right there to pounce.
I pushed giving 100 per cent until about eight laps from the flag and then felt I could back off a little to save the engine.
To take your first win in the highest level of powerboat racing is just unbelievable and I was in tears as I crossed the start-finish line.