We're all familiar with the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, but last month the 'other' Italian Formula 1 Gran Prix took place in Cernobbio, on Lake Como. That is the World Powerboat Championship, which is the equal of the four-wheeled variety, only on water. It represents an Italian-Emerati partnership that works well and could provide the template for motorsport of the future.
The first powerboat races were held way back in 1956 as the Miami-Nassau which was the first event to ignite public interest in the sport. The Italians who have always had a plentiful supply of engneers and maritime enthusiasts were naturally cut out for the sport and set up a rival to the Miami-Nassau, the Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio and the British joined the party with the Cowes-Torquay. This started a 3-way tussle between the founding nations for dominance within the sport that was to last the next two decades.
The current World Championship was inaugurated in 1981 and has been completely owned by the Italians, winning 15 titles. Como's Guido Cappellini alone accounts for a record 10 of those titles. Today the sport is dominated by Italian engineering, but in recent years it has seen the Arab world take up the mantel of World Powerboat racing. Of the eight competing teams 2 are Italian (D'Alessio-Scam Racing and Fendi Racing), one from Abu Dhabi (Team Abu Dabi), one from Dubai (Victory Team) and one from Qatar (Spirit of Qatar).
The emerging stars of the sport are undoubtedly the Arabic adventurers who, it would seem, have the money, enthusiasm and the spirit of adventure the sport needs in these challenging times. HE Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani, Arif Saif Al Zafeen and Rashed Al Tayer are examples of how the United Arab Emirates are beginning to dominate a world sport once wholly owned by the Europeans and Americans.
We have already seen Abu Dhabi set their sights on European football's highest prize with the acquisition of Manchester City and Qatar with PSG, could what we be seeing here be a template for the future of Formula 1 motorcar racing too? The Abu Dhabi and Bahrain Grand Prix's are firm fixtures on the F1 calendar. The sustainability of the sport in those countries however, depends on the ability to develop Emerati-born, or t least Arabic drivers who can maintain the public's interest in it.
"Motor sport in the UAE has matured dramatically in a relatively short space of time and our priority is to ensure that this growth is sustainable,"ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said last month. "The Government has made a huge investment in motor sport and it is vital that we respond by doing everything we can to bring in more young local drivers to build the interest of the UAE people, and all stakeholders."
What we see in Powerboat Racing is the verve and energy of the Emirates is the motor that drives a vessel made up of the craft and engineering expertise of the Italians and supported by an international tradition. It's the future of world motorsport as we know it.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty