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The first Formula one powerboat championship in 1981 introduced the powerboats in the racing senario.Formula one was brought to the water to gain the same level of thrill what people got from the F1 car racing. No one predicted it would be such a hit and the powerboats will stand the test of time. But it did and the powerboats that were used way back in 1980's have exactly the same design as they have now. The tunnel boat design is the main feature of these powerboats that have not changed yet. What has changed is the technology inside the boat and the material used.
The rules of the F1 car racing chapionship are similar to the F1 power boat championship. There are 12 teams and 24 powerboats competing eachother.
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Over The Years
The design is one aspect that has remained almost the same. So what has changed?
Initially powerboats were made of timber wood or plywood. But hardly could they stand the forces generated due to high velocity. Due to the phenomenal speed that the catamarans reached, many fatalities and accidents took place in a particular championship season. At that time the cockpit was not an enclosed cell and there were no safety harness or airbags for the drivers safety. The driver's life was at utmost risk.
Chris Hodges, a British powerboat designer came to the conclusion that the level of safety should be increased to preserve the lives of the drivers and also to preserve the sport. It was then that he came up with the idea of an enclosed cockpit. He made a capsule from a strong composite material. This cockpit was not attached to the main structure, instead it was connected to the hull and the central part of the boat. The purpose behind this design was that, in case of an accident the timber hull will absorb the impact and break, which will protect the driver from the impact. This was how the idea of enclosed cockpit evolved.
Later on, the safety harness which are now known as seat belts, were introduced. In 1990's the concept of airbags was launched. The idea behind the introduction of airbags was that incase of a crash, the airbag will inflate which will not only protect the driver from the impact forces but also prevent the capsule from sinking till the time the rescue team arrived.
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In the past, the powerboat cockpit used to consist of just a start button, a steering wheel and a throttle. But things have changed now. Drivers safety and operational ease is the utmost priority and to ensure this the cockpit is endowed with all kinds of facilities. A cockpit consists of a detachable steering wheel, a full throttle, a start button, a fuel pump switch, a red and yellow light which are controlled by the team's crew onshore to caution the driver for any obstacle on the course, a revolutions counter, air bag and oxygen supply.
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The tunnel hull boats still runs on the same principal that when the speed increases the bow raises up in the air, creating a cushion below it. The boat then runs on this cushion with least contact with water and negligible friction.
As far as safety is concerned there is a lot of room left for improvement. No doubt there has been an increase in the safety norms, the number of deaths caused by accidents is still high. Thus it is imperative that utmost care is given to safety. For this reason, cockpits are made of flexible and shock absorbing constuction and installed with airbags. Additional head and safety devices are also provided. Moreover a crash box is a must on each and every powerboat.
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Power Boat Racing by T. J. Andersen