SailGP: The Russell Report – Spain
Published on October 11th, 2023
SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the league and the fleet in advance of Spain Sail Grand Prix on October 14-15 in Andalucía-Cádiz
We’re returning to Spain to race on the Bay of Cádiz. The thing to remember about this racecourse is the very confused sea state. The waves bounce off the city walls, creating waves in multiple directions. This makes it very hard for teams to judge maneuvers or fly the boat consistently.
We have fairly light winds forecast this weekend and unfortunately we will be operating with just the 24m wings. The good news is that New Zealand’s wing is on site and we’ll have the 29m wings back available for use from Dubai onwards with the additional parts currently being shipped from New Zealand.
Looking at the teams, it’s clear to see that Emirates GBR, who have won the last two events, are looking a lot more solid this season. It’s been a long time coming.
The quality of the team onboard, from the back to the front, is so solid so to be honest, I think we were all expecting them to be a lot better in Season 3. However, perhaps the British have finally hit their straps, and it seems they’ve reached the stage where they’re really challenging the Australians for the overall Championship title.
Taranto was an eventful Sail Grand Prix with challenging conditions on day 1 where we had an unfortunate incident with the injury of United States flight controller Hans Henken. Regardless of that incident, the U.S. team had a tremendous fight back on day two of Taranto and that really showed the resolve of the entire team – to bounce back from Hans’ injury and qualify for the Final.
With Hans back in California recovering, the U.S. team have Taylor Canfield subbing in for flight control in his absence. It’s going to be a big ask for Taylor to come in with basically no practice. However, if we go down to a reduced number of crew this weekend, it’s unlikely he will sail with the team anyway.
Spain have clearly had a dramatic improvement this season, but they’re still not getting off the starting line as cleanly or consistently as they need to. That’s certainly been hurting them in recent events, as when they won in Los Angeles, they had amazing starts.
We also saw in the windy conditions of Taranto’s first day that they’re not yet comfortable to push the boat hard – they haven’t got that confidence in windy conditions.
ROCKWOOL Denmark is another team that has just kept improving. My impression is that they are really fast and capable of moving through the fleet. All they need to do is eliminate some of the simple errors that have been preventing them from achieving better results.
If they can tidy up their starts and a couple of technical decisions around the racecourse, I think we’ll see them on the podium a lot more. I’ve got to admit that I have to eat my words with this team – I didn’t think they would make it, but they’ve now proven they can be and are real contenders.
I’m also super impressed with Germany – they’ve shown they have enormous potential despite sitting at the bottom of the leaderboard. You’ve got to bear in mind that they had a collision in LA, which cost them points, and broke their daggerboard in Taranto. Yet before that happened, the team’s performance in Taranto was staggering.
They were sitting around mid-fleet, and even to just deliver the boat around the course in those conditions with the lack of experience they have on an F50 is amazing. So I have high hopes for this German team. Having said that, they won’t have their usual strategist Kahena Kunze in Cádiz – this could be a fairly major change given that she was also instrumental in the maneuvers.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got to ask what’s up with Canada? Seriously, they were one of the top emerging teams by the end of Season 3 and yet they’ve just had a horror start to Season 4. I don’t get it.
Phil Robertson (Canada driver) is brilliant at times but at other times he just doesn’t show up. I can only imagine the frustration of someone like (wing trimmer) Chris Draper and the coaching team. Knowing when to encourage Phil to back himself and when to play the averages is obviously key.
Switzerland is another team that just hasn’t been performing as well as they should. They’ve brought Glen Ashby and Nathan Outteridge on board and so far it just hasn’t made the difference they would have been hoping for. The Swiss team is currently sitting in 9th but they’re lucky not to be sitting in 10th – the German team is performing better than them in my opinion.
France is another team that’s had an incredibly poor start to the season, however, they had a more encouraging performance in Taranto. If you look back at Sydney in Season 3, they absolutely dominated in those high winds. But if you look back at what happened in San Francisco, when [France driver] Quentin Delapierre got absolutely schooled by [Emirates GBR driver] Ben Ainslie, France just hasn’t performed. I look back at that day and wonder if that knocked Quentin’s confidence.
Speaking of Burling – New Zealand are finally back in Cádiz. They’re probably going to be feeling slightly less practiced than the other teams – they’ve missed one and half events, so I think Pete and Blair are going to be hungry to get out there and secure a podium result. They’re another team that needs to perform now because they won’t want to slip any further behind at this stage of the season.
Race times on October 14-15 are at 15:30-17:00 CEST (09:30-11:00 EDT)
Season Standings (after four of 13 events; results and total points)
1. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 2-3-2-2; 35points
2. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 7-6-1-1; 29
3. Spain (Diego Botin), 5-1-3-6; 29
4. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 4-2-4-7; 27
5. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 1-7-8-DNC/6; 23
6. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 9-5-5-3; 22
7. France (Quintin Delapierre), 6-8-6-4; 20
8. Canada (Phil Robertson), 3-4-10-5; 18
9. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter), 8-9-9-9; 10
10. Germany (Erik Heil), 10-10-7-8; 6
• Canada SailGP Team: Docked four points in Season Championship for eight-point penalty at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
• Germany SailGP Team: Docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix
• New Zealand SailGP Team: Granted six event points for Italy Sail Grand Prix as unable to compete due to wing damage suffered at France Sail Grand Prix.
Season 4 – 2023
June 16-17 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 22-23 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Los Angeles
September 9-10 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 23-24 – Italy Sail Grand Prix | Taranto
October 14-15 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía- Cádiz
December 9-10 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix | Dubai*
Season 4 – 2024
January 13-14 – Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix | Abu Dhabi
February 24-25 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 23-24 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Auckland
May 4-5 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix
June 1-2 – Canada Sail Grand Prix | Halifax
June 22-23 – United States Sail Grand Prix | New York
July 13-14 – SailGP Season 4 Grand Final | San Francisco
* Added October 3, 2023
Format for Season 4:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• Up to seven qualifying fleet races of approximately 15 minutes may be scheduled for each regatta.
• The top three teams from qualifying advance to a final race to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000.00 USD event prize money purse that’s divided among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race for the top three teams in the season standing with the winner claiming the $1m USD prize.
For competition documents, click here.
Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing among national teams in some of the iconic harbors around the globe.