Penalty rundown at Great Britain SailGP
Published on August 14th, 2022
When you have nine boats with speeds capable of 50 knots, but boxed in by invisible race course boundaries, danger lurks at every crossing. This is the SailGP global sports league, and it is only through a technical system of virtual umpiring that order is maintained… sort of.
At the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix on July 30-31, a total of 36 protests were lodged across the six races, resulting in 20 penalties. Six of these were boundary penalties, which punish teams for straying outside of the course limits.
Three of these happened at almost exactly the same time, with the U.S., New Zealand and Great Britain all sailing outside of the boundary in the second race shortly after Mark 1. Mis-timed boat handling was likely to be the cause for these simultaneous boundary infractions, noted SailGP’s chief umpire Craig Mitchell.
“It looked like some of the teams weren’t dropping their boards soon enough to be able to turn before running out of bounds,” he said, with a boundary penalty requiring a team to kill its boat speed and drop back 20 metres. “It’s not a massive penalty, but it can be painful if you dip back into bad air.”
Delayed board drops were a recurring problem for Jimmy Spithill’s U.S. team, which was handed a penalty in the first race for not keeping clear of France on the approach to Gate 2.
“The U.S. team went to drop the board to gybe in front of France, but the board took a lot longer than usual to go down onto the lock and they couldn’t turn very well,” Mitchell explains. The consequent penalty and time spent getting back on track saw the team cross the finish line in seventh place.
The most severe penalty of the event took place when Jordi Xammar’s Spanish team collided with Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain on the approach to the start line, which scuppered Great Britain’s start and proved devastating to Spain.
The Spanish received a penalty for causing contact, docking the team four points from its event score and – more importantly – two points from its overall season score, which Mitchell described as a ‘big loss’.
The incident also proved costly to Tom Slingsby’s Australia, which was forced to drop behind Spain after incurring an OCS penalty for crossing the start line early. “Crossing the line early and dropping behind the fleet leaves you with a mountain to climb to get back into the race,” Mitchell said.
The most contentious penalty occurred on the last day of racing when Great Britain was found at fault 200m from the finish line in the fifth and final fleet race for crossing too close to Australia (see video), pushing the team back into fourth.
This resulted in the Brits losing a tie break for third place overall with Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark, stripping the home favorites of a place in the Final.
Driver Ben Ainslie criticized the call, but Mitchell pointed out that “there doesn’t need to be contact for someone to be breaking a rule. If a right-of-way boat has to take avoiding action and if it’s reasonable to take that avoiding action then the other boat hasn’t kept clear.”
Ainslie found fault with the umpires’ ghost boat technology, a part of the tracking system, which allows them to see a four second projection of a boat’s path, taking into account current direction and speed.
However, Mitchell said that part of the software was not the only factor behind the decision. “It’s just one of the tools that helps us make a judgement – we are looking at many data points within the tracking software and can also see the incident from multiple TV camera angles to gauge how close the boats get,” he said.
He pushed back against Ainslie’s criticism, arguing that Great Britain was pressing a high risk strategy. “It was a really close call but it was on GBR to keep clear,” he said. “And if we’re not certain the give way boat has kept clear then they will get a penalty in that situation.”
Season Three Standings (after three events)
1. Australia, Tom Slingsby – 29 points
2. Great Britain, Ben Ainslie – 24 points
3. New Zealand, Peter Burling – 22 points
4. Canada, Phil Robertson – 22 points
5. Denmark, Nicolai Sehested – 20 points
6. France, Quentin Delapierre – 15 points
7. United States, Jimmy Spithill – 13 points
8. Spain, Jordi Xammar – 8 points
9. Switzerland, Sébastien Schneiter – 7 points
2022-23 SailGP Season 3 Schedule
May 14-15, 2022 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess
June 18-19, 2022 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 30-31, 2022 – Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
August 19-20, 2022 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix | Copenhagen
September 10-11, 2022 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 24-25, 2022 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía – Cádiz
November 12-13, 2022 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas
January 13-14, 2023 – Singapore Sail Grand Prix
February 17-18, 2023 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 17-18, 2023 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 6-7, 2023 – United States Sail Grand Prix | San Francisco (Season 3 Grand Final)
Format for 2022-23 SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three races on each day, totaling six races at each event.
• The opening five fleet races involve every team.
• The final match race pits the three highest ranking teams against each other to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000 prize money to be split among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.
For competition documents, click here.
Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans for event prize money as the season culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.