F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 OPENER
STRONG WINDS IN PORTUGAL
Holding the opening round of the 2017 World F1 championship so early in the year always poses a bit of a risk. At the Grand Prix of Portimao the Arade Estuary has little protection from the Atlantic Ocean so when gale force winds are howling through the pits, its no surprise the course becomes a bit on the rough side.
The first three days of our visit to Portimao was limited to watching flags trying to break free from the poles and worried race crews wandering around the pits trying to prepare for the first race of the season in uncertain conditions. Weather forecasters promised perfect weather for Sunday and on this occasion, they got it right.
Free practice started at 9.00am on Race Day, and the ideal waters on the course allowed drivers to produce some fast times. Qualifying swiftly followed practice and Victory’s Shaun Torrente showed he meant business by clinching top spot. He was followed by a rejuvenated Francesco Cantando. However, the Italian’s efforts were short-lived when he barrel-rolled his Blaze at the top end of the circuit after 17 laps. Cantando’s demise indicated Victory were in for an impressive 1-2 as Torrente led the charge followed by Ahmed Al Hameli, however, on lap 20 disaster struck the Abu Dhabi resident. As Al Hameli tried to line-up for a fast sprint past timing he mis-judged his position and on full power his BaBa struck a pontoon which wiped out his starboard sponson. Miraculously, Al Hameli escaped unscathed, and afterwards he reported that the Hans devise, which is now compulsory in F1, affected his vision allowing just a limited movement of his head, a complaint voiced by several drivers.
The qualifying line-up was Torrente on pole, Team Sweden’s Erik Stark, CITC China’s Philippe Chiappe, Abu Dhabi’s Alex Carellam Duarte Benavente, Jonas Andersson and Team BaBa’s Sami Selio.
The line-up for the 16th GP of Portugal looked a little depleted with no Al Hameli, Abu Dhabi’s three boat contingent reduced to just Alex Carella as the two Al QamzI’s Thani and Rasheed stayed ashore with mechanical issues, and Cantando, after working frantically to dry his engine out only lasted one lap, four less than Andersson and Emirate Racing’s Marit Stromoy who dropped out after 7 laps. In the meantime Torrente was producing a ‘dream drive’ leading Chiappe by almost half a lap. It was not to last, however, as the American fell by the wayside on lap 10 and France’s Chiappe inherited the lead. That is where he stayed until the chequered flag, and Sami Selio who had started in sixth place moved up to second spot when Erik Stark dropped out on the final lap. With the growing list of retirees of the front runners, it mean’t several drivers kept moving up the results sheet, and Duarte Benavente gave the home crown something to cheer about when he filled the final podium place behind Carella in 4th place. Poland’s Bart Marszalek drove a superb race to finish in 5th place. However, he was so incensed by German pilot Mike Syzymura, accusing him of getting in his way and robbing him of a possible podium place, that he pushed Szymura into the river. In the event, Szymura was disqualified for ignoring the black flag as the referee was trying to get him off the circuit when it was clear his radio was not working. Australia’s Grant Trask continued his steady progress finishing in 7th place behind Team Maverick’s Cedric Deguisne and ahead of CITC China’s Peter Morin, who was making his F1 debut. Of the nineteen starters only seven made it to the finish line and Team Atlantic was the only team to finish with both drivers Benavente and Trask.
Winner of the Portugal Grand Prix – Philippe Chiappe
Sami Selio – 2nd overall
Shaun Torrente, Ahmed Al Hameli and Erik Stark – 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Qualifying