HMS interviews 22-year-old Ben Jelf following his recent Formula 2 championship win and successes at the Coniston Records Week. How did he chart his route to success and in what ways does this young champion see the sport evolving? Let’s find out …
Congratulations on your recent Formula 2 championship win. This must have been a long-held dream …
Thank you. Yes, it has been a very big dream of mine for sure to win my first championship in the Formula 2 class and it feels great to have nailed this coveted title. I owe a lot to everyone who has supported me and helped me achieve this long-held goal.
Ben F1 Atlantic Team.
Your involvement in racing is very much a family affair, I believe …
Yes indeed. My grandfather won many titles in the sport, my dad and uncle too. It’s a great honour to have such a heritage. Racing has been, and remains, very much a family affair. My dad too has spent many a long night with me working on our various race boats, in addition to travelling literally thousands of miles for me and with me in order to support my racing passion.
Ben and Colin
As a young person, how would you say your involvement in powerboat racing has been a positive influence on you?
It has influenced me a great deal, I would say. Having the opportunity to travel all over the world and race in the World Series of Formula 2, these experiences have helped me develop many useful skills and have proved to be an education too. There’s little doubt in my mind that this has helped me with my day-to-day job as a motor vehicle mechanic.
Ben Jelf 2012
Following this accolade, what are your long-term goals, both in and outside the marine world?
Following on from this season I plan to continue to progress my work on the new 4-stroke engine we’re running, in order to achieve yet more strong results. We even plan to enter some international races to see how we compare to the world fleet, then eventually enter the World Series full-time. From there, we’ll just have to see how things progress …
What advice would you give to other youngsters who may have similar aspirations?
My advice to young people is to always keep pushing on. No matter how hard it seems some days or what obstacles come your way, just keep working at achieving your goals. I’ve certainly had plenty of races where it hasn’t gone my way, but I’ve tried to learn from the mistakes made and put them in my ‘bag of experience’, ready for the next time.
Ben Jelf racing in the F4 Class.
Where do you think the sport could improve and develop, and do you have any views on the subject of future boat design and technology?
I think the sport possibly needs to improve in getting itself out there on social media. Our team has worked very hard regarding this, especially over the last couple of years. But I think with more group effort from competitors, teams and promoters, we’ll have more chance of getting powerboat racing on the world stage and encourage more people to come through the ranks.
I think powerboat racing must become more eco-friendly as it has to adapt and evolve to the views and needs of our rapidly changing world. We see the top forms of motor sport, like Formula 1, employing sustainable fuel and better hybrid units for their racing, so we must do the same.
Recently, Mercury brought out the 4-stroke 200 APX to replace their 2-stroke Optimax engine. I think this is a good step in the right direction for more eco-friendly and sustainable racing, as it would allow powerboat racing a wider variety of race locations if we were to use more eco-friendly engines.
There are so many new technology discoveries happening all over the world at this time, and soon new ideas will come through to benefit powerboat racing, so who knows what will be released next to get that edge over the other competitors. I for one am excited about this prospect.
Ben Jelf racing in 2011.
What advice would you give to other aspiring racers with regard to sponsorship?
In terms of sponsorship, in our experience, trying to gain sponsorship for powerboat racing in particular is very difficult and you have to expect a lot of rejections. But to overcome this, firstly you need to remember that any potential investor or partner will be looking for a three to five times value in return for whatever financial contribution they make to your team. We need to consider how we can improve their company or brand’s profile and what value we can give back in return. To achieve this, you have to monetise the added value you’re seeking to achieve for your sponsor. It’s not as simple as someone just giving you money anymore; you have to add real value to their brand.
In this digital age you also need to be very visual in terms of your profile and increase your social media presence wherever possible. High-quality pictures for online use and hi-res imagery too for printed media are essential to your promotion. It’s not just about product placement, merch and stickers on boats anymore!
With over 50 years of successful racing history as a team, we still struggle to find sponsors, and so we put a lot of hard work into trying to build worthwhile partnerships, while creating our own brand sufficiently to attract sponsors and sponsorship. In fact, as we speak, we’re currently going through the lengthy process of looking for new sponsors and partners for the forthcoming seasons.
Back in November, Ben went in search of the British F2 200 APX record and world and British records in the S Infinity Class at Coniston Records Week. While being no stranger to this famous event, Ben was looking to put the new F2 Mercury 200 APX engine through its paces and substantiate its capability in straight-line speed.
His first run of the week came on the Tuesday as poor conditions the day before prevented him from taking to the water as first planned. But as dusk was setting in on the Tuesday evening, Ben took to the 1km run and sped home, establishing a British F2 200 APX record of 113.29mph. It was Thursday before the conditions were favourable again, but this time Ben increased his record twice during the day for the record to finally stand at 119.40mph.
His focus then turned to the world and British S Infinity record, whereupon he established the record at 115.48mph. Later, beating his own record, not just once but twice, he went from 119.81mph to securing an astonishing 121.80mph. This now gives Ben a total tally of five speed world records and 12 British records in all – an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards.
Speaking about his experience, Ben told PBR: ‘Conditions weren’t in our favour for much of the week, but to secure another two British records and another world record is really fantastic for our team. Because the engine was new, I confess, we weren’t really sure what to expect. In some ways, it’s still a development project for the team, so to achieve over 120mph is a great result for us. There’s definitely more speed to be had from this rig and more successes to be gained. In terms of the 2022 event, the weather was just too fickle, but there’s no doubt about it, we learned a great deal and will be back for sure next year to push those records even further!’
F1 Atlantic Team Prospect Looms
It has just been announced that Ben will join the F1 Atlantic Team for the final of the F1H2O World Powerboat Championship and 2023 season opening rounds in Indonesia. The season finale will see a double header as the teams make the journey to Sharjah, UAE. Ben will partner Duarte Benavente in a bid to end the season on a high for the F1 Atlantic Team.
Ben will be the youngest ever British driver to take the starting grid in the F1H2O Championship – the third generation of F1 driver, following in his grandfather, father and uncle’s wake before him. Colin Jelf competed in F1 during the 90s and grandfather Ted in the equivalent class in the 70s and early 80s.
On the upcoming partnership, Ben said: ‘This is what every powerboat racer dreams of. I’ve been dreaming of this as long as I can remember.’ He continued: ‘It’s a real honour to be part of Team F1 Atlantic. Duarte’s experience along with that of my own team means I couldn’t ask for a better team behind me, and I can’t wait to represent Britain in what is the pinnacle of our sport.’