What is F1H2O?
The UIM F1H2O World Championship is the ‘flagship’ international series of single-seater inshore circuit powerboat racing.
Highly competitive, intensely challenging, risky and entertaining, the F1H2O World Championship is the ultimate adrenalin rush and regarded as one of the most spectacular and exciting sports in the world.
The series attracts up to 20 of the world’s leading drivers and is a sport that has to be seen to be believed as these diminutive tunnel-hull catamarans enter hairpin turns at over 90mph and top 140mph on the straights.
Picture the scene; 18 to 20 sleek, powerful and lightweight catamarans lining up on the start pontoon. Inside each cockpit sits a lone individual peering through a tiny windscreen. One hand grasps the steering wheel, the other poised over the start button. The tension inside the cockpit is intense as the drivers wait for the crucial start. Beyond the cockpit, an eerie silence descends over the entire arena, all attention fixed on the start.
No sooner does the wait end when 10,000hp of highly tuned brute power bursts into life sending the fleet screaming towards the first corner leaving nothing but a glorious fountain of white spray in its wake.
Now in its 35th season, the UIM F1H2O World Championship will mark the ninth time that the UK has hosted a round; the eight previous rounds were staged at Holme Pierrepont (1981); Bristol (1982 & 1990); London (1983, 1984 & 1985); and Cardiff (1993 & 1994).
The last Grand Prix of London was also staged at Royal Victoria Dock, and was won by British driver, Bob Spalding. That same year and following two further victories at the Munich (GER) and Lyon (FRA) Grands Prix, Spalding was crowned the UIM Formula 1 World Champion.
During the 2018 UIM F1H2O World Championship, the prestigious number 1 plate will be carried by the defending four-time world champion, Alex Carella from Italy.
The six-metre-long, 2.1-metre-wide, 550kg boats (weight includes residual fuel and oil, the driver with personal equipment, but excludes loose water), which carry a maximum of 120 litres of fuel, can accelerate from 0–100km/h in four seconds.
All boats are powered by the Mercury 2.5litre, two-stroke, outboard engine, which generates near to 400hp (at 10,500rpm), and has been used by the UIM Formula 1 World Championship (now the UIM F1H2O World Championship) since 2000.
Since its inception in 1981 the UIM Formula 1 World Championship has played out 272 Grands Prix in 32 countries across five continents, while 13 drivers have claimed the world title, with 47 of them becoming members of the illustrious Grands Prix winners’ club.
Of the 13 world champions, seven are multiple title winners: Italy’s Guido Cappellini is the most decorated with 10 wins; Italy’s Alex Carella and American Scott Gillman with four each; France’s Philippe Chiappe and Italy’s Renato Molinari with three each; and Finland’s Sami Selio and Great Britain’s Jonathan Jones with two apiece.
The boats’ safety features include: an airbag; a cockpit and hull built from carbon fibre, Kevlar, synthetic fibre, airex and nomex; a bullet-proof windscreen; and plastic foam-tipped hulls to avoid penetration in case of collision. Additionally, and just like their Formula 1® counterparts, F1H2O drivers wear the head and neck support (HANS) device.
While boats in the 1980s were constructed from thin plywood and featured an open, exposed cockpit; today’s boats are made from strong, lightweight composite materials, such as carbon fibre and Kevlar, and in the interest of safety the driver is now strapped into his/her seat within a ‘safety cell’, which was developed by British designer and racer, Chris Hodges.
F4-S boats are constructed of the same materials as Formula 1 boats and are a similar twin- sponson, tunnel-hull catamaran design. Although they are approximately a quarter of the weight (118kg) of Formula 1 boats and have considerably less powerful engines (60bhp), they still manage to reach speeds of over 70mph.
About H2O Racing
H2O Racing is an international sports management, marketing and media company responsible for organising and promoting events in powerboat and jet ski racing.
The multi-faceted company, founded by Nicolo di San Germano in 2011, is responsible for three Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) sanctioned properties; the F1H2O World Powerboat Championship, the Aquabike Circuit World Championship and the Nations Cup Powerboat World Series.
The company is the worldwide television and commercial rights holder for all Championships and responsible for all commercial, marketing, television, media and organisational activities.
President: Nicolo di San Germano
The concept of a single unified championship for inshore powerboats had been conceived three years previously in 1978 when David Parkinson, an experienced PR manager, was offered the support of Mercury Marine, one of his clients, if he could establish such a series. The concept became the Canon Trophy, sponsored by another of Parkinson’s clients, Canon Inc.
A steady escalation in engine development between Mercury and arch-rival OMC was already underway as the Canon Trophy was formed, and this arms race ultimately resulted in massively powerful 3.5-litre (210 in3 ) V8 engines being used and led to the creation of the OZ class. Each manufacturer offered as many as half a dozen drivers with a free supply of these OZ class engines in a bid to succeed. The OZ engines differed from the ON class which was centred around a standard 2-litre capacity and consequently OZ machines, with their superior power, swept all before them. Matters came to a head when, in an attempt to extract an even greater advantage, Renato Molinari turned up with two engines on the back of his boat at the Italian Grand Prix. A petition was signed by 28 drivers in 1980 to outlaw the OZ boats and the Formula ON Drivers Association (FONDA) was born. Mercury withdrew their T4 engine and the split was confirmed. OZ and ON classes would have their own championships in 1981.
Somewhat understandably, both championships attempted to use the title of Formula 1 to market themselves as the pinnacle of powerboat racing. For much of 1981 however it was largely irrelevant. John Player had chosen to support the OMC-powered OZ championship, giving it not only an advantage in speed and technology, but also marketing. The championship was still in its early stages with a small grid, but FONDA’s ON class wasn’t much better either and was effectively the remains of the Canon Trophy. Journalists of the period continued to use the familiar terms of ON and OZ to avoid confusion, and it was only when the UIM stepped in to sort out the mess that resulted in the OZ class being awarded Formula 1 status, with the ON class given the consolation title of “World Grand Prix”. Thus, with the backing of the drivers’ association behind it, the FONDA World Grand Prix Series entered into a period of being overshadowed by its bigger, faster brother, the Formula 1 World Series.
By bringing together the financial support and marketing ability of John Player Special, as well as the clarity and consistency of a championship with an established event structure, one which focused on sprint races rather than a mixture that included endurance races in previous years, the category allowed for a relatively stable environment in which the top powerboat teams and drivers could compete. A fixed points system made comprehension easy for spectators, with it matching its motor racing equivalent with 9, 6, 4, 3, 2, and finally 1 point on offer for the top six finishers.
Safety was always looming large in the background of the F1 series. The ever-increasing speeds of the 3.5- litre V8s, as OMC continued to refine them, meant that surviving a ‘big one’ was becoming less and less likely. In 1984, matters reached a tragic conclusion when Tom Percival was the last of four drivers to lose their lives in the space of a matter of months. Cees van der Velden pulled his three-boat Benson & Hedges- backed team from the final three races of the season, and Carlsberg cancelled their partnership with Roger Jenkins, having told the 1982 champion, “another death or serious injury, and they were out”. OMC were able to pull together a depleted field to see out the season, but the writing was on the wall. It was the beginning of the end for Formula 1 as the OZ class.
Keen to keep the championship running however, OMC gave the F1 World Series a facelift. With Benson & Hedges vacating the series’ title sponsorship, in came Champion to create the Champion Spark Plug F1 World Series, and a new Belgian promoter, Pro One, was tasked with turning the series around. Prize money was significantly increased to attract drivers and a greater presence in the United States was sought. Boat designer Chris Hodges introduced the first iteration of his safety cell which paved the way for a revolution in boat safety and Bob Spalding won the title driving for the Percival Hodges team. On the outside, it appeared as if Formula 1 was set for a new period of growth, until OMC uncovered the level of spending that Pro One had undertaken to raise the profile of the championship. Rumours suggested the promoter had spent the promotion budget for the next three years in a single season. Figures of $4–5 million were passed around. OMC called time on the whole European operation at the end of 1985 and in 1986, based solely in North America, the F1 World Series was wound down before it was completely assimilated into the domestic US championship.
From 1987 to 1989, there was no official Formula 1 championship. The FONDA World Grand Prix Series continued to operate with title sponsorship from Budweiser and benefitted from F1’s demise in Europe as drivers moved back over. In simple terms Mercury’s two litre formula had outlasted OMC’s monster 3.5- litre V8s but the reality was far more complex than that. In the United States, Formula 1 lived on, but as far but as far as the world stage was concerned, the powerboat community once again turned to David Parkinson, who having established the Canon Trophy back in 1978, was still at the helm of the FONDA series into which it had evolved. With no other challenger unlike ten years previously, the UIM reinstated the Formula 1 category to World Championship status and in 1990 the FONDA World Grand Prix Series became the Formula 1 World Championship.
David Parkinson continued to manage and promote the championship until the end of 1993, at which point he handed over to Nicolo di San Germano, who continues to lead the series to the present day. Di San Germano has overseen a period of continued improvements in driver safety, managed the championship through multiple economic downturns and seen a shift in focus for the series away from Europe towards the Middle East and Asia, driven by a need for financial stability.
About Tian Rong Sports
Tian Rong Sports is a professional company operating and investing in the international sports entertainment industry. Tian Rong Sports is the exclusive institution authorised by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) to promote the UIM F1H2O World Championship in China and the UK, and has successfully held the Grand Prix of China 19 times. It owns all commercial rights and interests of this event within the territory of China and the UK. The CTIC F1 Powerboat China Team is co-founded by the China Water Sports Administration and Tian Rong Sports. In season 2014, 2015 and 2016, the team has consecutively won a hat-trick of UIM F1H2O World Championship titles. In this new era, Tian Rong Sports aims at renovating itself in order to fuel the development of China’s national maritime strategy, as well as the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.