Everything You Need to Know about the F1 Powerboat World Championship

Otherwise known as F1H2O, the F1 Powerboat World Championship is an international powerboat racing competition. It is sponsored by H2O Racing and organized by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM). The event incorporates the highest class of inshore powerboat race in the world, sharing its F1 title with Formula One car racing.

Each F1H20 race follows a marked circuit, usually on a lake, dock, sheltered bay, or river. Each race lasts for approximately 45 minutes. Qualifying periods dictate formation of the boats on the grid. Timing equipment is used to record each competitor’s performance, deciding the final classification and allocation of points.

Image by Ronald Woan | Flickr

Here’s everything you need to know about the event:

The idea for the sport originated in 1978. PR Manager David Parkinson was approached by a client, Mercury Marine, and asked whether he could establish a powerboat racing series. After securing sponsorship from Canon Inc., another of his clients, David Parkinson established the now world-famous Canon Trophy.

As the Canon Trophy was conceived, Mercury Marine and business rival, The Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC), were steadily achieving advancements in the development of powerboat engines. The rivalry ultimately drove creation of powerful 3.5-liter V8 engines, paving the way for creation of the OZ class.

Each boat manufacturer sponsored as many as six drivers, providing each with a free supply of OZ class engines in their bid to succeed. OZ engines were quite distinct from the traditional ON class that featured a standard 2-liter capacity engine, with OZ engines drastically outclassing their predecessors in terms of power.

In an attempt to achieve an even greater advantage, Renato Monlinari famously appeared at the Italian Grand Prix with not one, but two engines on the back of his power boat. For many racers, this was the last straw. A total of 28 drivers signed a petition calling for a ban on OZ boats, an act culminating in the creation of the Formula ON Drivers Association.

Mercury subsequently withdrew the T4 engine and a split was confirmed, with ON and OZ classes staging separate championships from 1981. The OZ class was awarded F1 status, with the ON championships left with the less-prestigious title of “World Class Grand Prix.”

Even in the formative years of the F1 Powerboat World Championship, safety was paramount. Continued refinements of 3.5-liter V8 engines enabled racers to achieve higher and higher speeds.

Powerboat racing was dealt a tragic blow in 1984. British racer Tom Percival became the fourth competitor to lose his life on the water in the space of just a few months.

The Benson & Hedges team was pulled from its last three races by Cees van der Velden. In addition, having previously warned 1982 champion Roger Jenkins that one more death or serious injury and they would pull the plug, Carlsberg withdrew sponsorship.

In terms of OZ class competitions, the events of 1984 marked the beginning of the end. In order to keep the championship running, the OMC attempted to give the F1 Powerboat World Series a facelift. It enlisted the help of Belgian promotor Pro One and brought in US spark plug manufacturer Champion to create the Champion F1 World Series.

Prize funds were increased as part of efforts to attract the world’s most talented powerboat drivers, raising the sport’s profile in the United States. However, financial mismanagement of the OZ class F1 led to its demise. David Parkinson continued to preside over the FONDA championship — which was restored to F1 championship status in 1990 following the disbanding of the OZ F1World Championship — promoting and managing it until late 1993.

At that point Nicolo San Germano took control, heralding the start of a period of continued improvements in terms of driver safety. He also guided the championship through multiple economic downturns. Over the years, event organizers have shifted the focus of the series away from Europe. Instead, they have concentrated on the Asian and Middle Eastern markets.

Following consultations with local authorities, event organizers H2O Racing made the decision to cancel all 2020 events as part of global efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Nicolo San Germano explained that the organization was collaborating with partners across the globe in the hope of being ready to safely reopen in time for the start of the 2021 Championship Season.

As of January 2021, F1H2O still planned to go ahead with various fixtures throughout the 2021 powerboat racing season, including the Grand Prix of China. However, precise details were yet to be confirmed.

The commencement of the 2021 season marks the launch of several new teams, with drastic changes to historic F1 team structures, including the introduction of Strømøy Racing, a new team from Norway. In addition, South African F1 Champion Brett Stuart joined forces with Cedric Deguisne, unveiling the new Maverick Team.

Widely regarded as inshore powerboat racing’s flagship international series, the F1H20 World Championship is an intensely challenging, highly competitive celebration of one of the world’s most spectacular, adrenaline powered sports. Attracting the sport’s leading drivers, F1H2O has earned a global following, staging some the most prestigious and exciting powerboat events in the world.

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.