Wednesday, February 22: The containers are unloaded and the paddock is now a hive of activity as teams ready their equipment and race boats for this weekend’s Kopiko Grand Prix of Indonesia, the opening round of the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship.
An airport welcome party was there to greet many of the teams and drivers and light refreshments were served on arrival, along with local music and the handing out of gifts. Everyone was escorted from the airport by the police and the village and lake area have gone race-crazy with people already asking for autographs and memorabilia. Even heavy rain showers have not dampened the locals’ enthusiasm for the race and the excitement has already kicked up a notch in the paddock.
Team Abu Dhabi’s Shaun Torrente arrived into the nearby Silangit International Airport on Tuesday morning and is spending the early part of the week adjusting to the time zone, enjoying a little of the warm Indonesian hospitality and preparing himself mentally for the defence of his world title.
The American said: “We are excited to race here on Lake Toba. We are excited about a different venue and a really good race course that Luis (Ribero) and H2O Racing have laid on for us. It’s going to be amazing. Also, we need to factor in the altitude. We are 3000 feet, 1000 metres, above the sea and that will affect the engines a bit. More than anything, it’s great to get the season started. Let’s see what we can do. Abu Dhabi have won the first race for the last four seasons, so I hope to make it five.
“On the preparation side, the guys have done an amazing job. We have been trying to take another step forward with the engines. Also, they have been preparing a boat for me because my boat was obviously destroyed in Sharjah. It has been a lot of work for the guys. Because of the tight time frame after Sharjah, we will get the test programme here.”
The Sharjah Team’s two-time World Champion Sami Seliö is upbeat about the new season after last year’s disappointing race performances. The Finn said: “At times it felt like a painful roller coaster ride going from the highs of leading the French Grand Prix from pole position then moments later breaking down with a small part failing, to the highs of Zandbergen taking his first victory to me crashing out in qualifying and the race. We had so much bad luck that the guys were actually getting uses to it..
“Our Mercury engines require a specific amount of air to run properly. So, due to the lower level of oxygen at higher altitudes, we may notice a significant decrease in power and performance here, but every team will have that to contend with not just us. We are all race drivers and always want to win. Perhaps, this season, just how hard we need to push, especially in Indonesia and China, might need to be looked at.”
Since the Christmas break, Seliö has been balancing his time between the Sharjah team and being a brand ambassador for Finland’s proudest boat-builders, Finnmaster and Grandezza. The Finn is no stranger to this part of the world: 22 years ago, across the Malacca Strait in Johor Bahru, a young Seliö stood on the winner’s podium at the opening round of the 2001 series alongside Laith Pharaon and Francesco Cantando.
British youngster Ben Jelf is preparing for his third Grand Prix and his second F1H2O race course. The F1 Atlantic Team driver said: “I’m feeling good and like the race venue. We’ve been setting up and doing a lot of work on the boat. I’m feeling confident. We will just have to see how it goes. The feeling in Sharjah was like nothing I have felt before. I have done many races but I was very proud to be a part of this. Lake Toba is very beautiful and the welcome we have had has been fantastic. I’m really excited.”
Tomorrow (Thursday), teams carry out registration and scrutineering formalities before the on-water action takes centre stage on Friday.