Monday, March 13: With the official countdown now on to the second round of the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship in Zhengzhou on April 28th- 30th, H2O Racing is preparing to return to China for the first time since back-to-back races were staged in Xiamen in October 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.
China has been an integral part of the modern-day F1H2O calendar since 1997 and has played host to some spectacular action at a diverse number of race venues in that period.
The city of Xiamen hosted the penultimate round of a nine-race calendar in 1997 and victory on that milestone weekend in November fell to current race commentator Jonathan Jones of Wales. He went on to finish fourth in the title race that season behind Scott Gillman, Pertti Leppala and Guido Cappellini.
Seven years later, in 2004, the F1H2O World Championship visited four Asian venues in succession in a 10-race season and China returned to the fold with a Grand Prix in Shanghai preceding races in Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. Gillman was again crowned World Champion that season and one of his six wins came in China. The American got the better of his great adversary Cappellini, with Francesco Cantando rounding off the podium places.
The series returned to China two years later during a six-round championship that also visited Qatar, Portugal, Italy, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Chongzhou was the host venue and the maximum 20 points for victory went to Gillman once again, with Jay Price in second and David Trask finishing third. Gillman went on to clinch the third of his four world titles after Cappellini retired on the final race in the UAE.
The cities of Xi’an and Shenzhen hosted rounds three and four of the 2007 series in a year when flying Finn Sami Seliö secured the first of his two world titles. The Finn finished third in both races with Team Abu Dhabi’s Thani Al-Qamzi taking the chequered flag in Xi’an and Cappellini triumphing in Shenzhen. The pair had one third-place finish apiece in the other races.
Liuzhou and Shenzhen slotted into the calendar for rounds five and six of the 2008 season and a win and a second place helped Jay Price seal the world title for the Qatar Team. David Trask and Fabio Comparato climbed on to the podium on the first one and Price finished behind Seliö and ahead of Ahmad Al-Hameli in Shenzhen.
The 2009 season features a new format of eight double-header races in a 16 Grand Prix calendar. Cappellini sealed the last of his nine world titles, the Italian taking one first and one second place with the Zepter Team in Liuzhou and Shenzhen. The other three races were won by Jonas Andersson and Seliö, who secured wins in both venues.
The championship reverted to a single race format for 2010 and was fought out over eight Grand Prix with Linyi, Luizhou and Shenzhen hosting rounds three, four and five. Victories fell to Alex Carella, Jay Price and Francesco Cantando in a year where Seliö secured a second world title at the final race on Khalid Lagoon in Sharjah. The Finn, Al-Qamzi and Philippe Chiappe earned a runner-up spot apiece on the Chinese races.
The Liuzhou River was the only Chinese venue to host a race in 2011 and the Team Abu Dhabi duo of Al-Qamzi and Al-Hameli earned a 1-2 finish with Chiappe finishing third. After being disqualified from the results, Price went on to miss out on the world title to his Qatar team-mate Carella, following a dramatic first turn crash between the two team-mates in Sharjah later in the year.
Carella claimed his first Chinese success the following year in Liuzhou on his way to a second successive world title. Al-Qamzi and Chiappe rounded off the podium places. The venue hosted round three in 2013 and Carella was again triumphant on his way to a third World Championship. Seliö and Chiappe filled the minor places on the Luizhou podium.
There were no European rounds of the series in 2014 and the series was fought out over a pair of Qatar GPs and single races in Liuzhou, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Despite retiring in China – where Carella, Erik Stark and Al-Qamzi filled the podium places – Chiappe claimed his first world title.
Luizhou was now a regular haunt on the World Championship calendar and became a much happier hunting ground for Chiappe in 2015. The Frenchman beat Al-Qamzi and Seliö to the chequered flag on a race where Carella retired. It proved decisive in the title race as well and, despite retiring on the final race in Sharjah, Chiappe went on to win the title for the second year.
The Chinese city of Harbin joined the calendar for the first time in 2016 and slotted in as race four in a seven-round series that again included a Grand Prix in Luizhou. Seliö and Al-Hameli won the two Chinese races but a third and second-place finish put Chiappe firmly on course for a third successive Drivers’ Championship.
Both venues were again included in the 2017 calendar, sandwiched between European races in France and Portugal and the now traditional back-to-back finale in the UAE. Stark and Carella claimed the two race wins, with Al-Qamzi and Stark claimed one second place and Al-Hameli and Chiappe earning a third overall apiece. Carella cruised to a fourth world title, the Italian topping the standings by 22 points.
The 2018 season visited the United Kingdom for the first time in many years and the Chinese city of Xiangyang hosted round four of the seven-round championship. Shaun Torrente won three races during the course of the season, including the race in China, and managed to secure a maiden world title by just four points from Stark. Norway’s Marit Strømøy and Stark made the podium on the new Han River course.
The pre-Covid 19 season in 2019 was fought out over five races and China hosted rounds two and three in Xiamen. One fourth place and a race win propelled Torrente to a second world title with Team Abu Dhabi. Andersson and Chiappe claimed a runner-up spot apiece and Strømøy and Andersson earned one third-place finish.