Executing race starts with more aggression is high on the list of priorities for France driver Quentin Delapierre ahead of Saint-Tropez, with Delapierre aiming to find some much-needed momentum on home waters.
Speaking ahead of the France Sail Grand Prix, Delapierre admits it ‘hasn’t been a dream start’ to Season 4 - the team currently sits in 8th overall after 6th and 8th place finishes in Chicago and Los Angeles. These lackluster performances surprised fans after France’s impressive Season 3 showing, which saw the team finish in fourth overall after narrowly missing out on a place in the three-boat Grand Final to Emirates Great Britain. But the end of last season proved ‘exhausting’ for the team, resulting in a loss of momentum when Season 4 got underway. “We’ve had difficulties catching the momentum of this new season,” he says.
He reflects on the performances of Chicago and Los Angeles, pointing specifically to the ‘small starting box’ of LA, and his failure to execute the starts. Looking ahead to Saint-Tropez, one of his key aims is to be ‘more aggressive’ on the line and ‘put the team in good shape after the start.’ The addition of Germany - the 10th boat in the F50 fleet - has ‘made a difference’, he says, with ‘the intensity increased’. But, he says, the team’s ‘strategy is not looking at the rest of the fleet’, but focusing on itself. “I want to recover the confidence and trust in the strategy and our skills on the start, so that it doesn’t matter if it’s intense or not,” he says, adding that the goal is to ‘trust the timing and people on board to close the gap and reach the line at full speed.’
The light air conditions of Chicago and LA also proved problematic for Delapierre’s squad, which is known throughout the fleet for favoring wild and windy conditions. While Delapierre disagrees that the team is ‘not comfortable’ in lighter airs, he admits that ‘in those conditions, we are not performing as well as in foiling conditions’. As a result, the team is working ‘hard on light conditions to find a good strategy, to become more precise and work out what really matters’. “Right now, we haven’t performed in those conditions, so it will be helpful going into Saint-Tropez,” he adds.
France is not the only previously performing team struggling in Season 4. Other notable examples include Ben Ainslie’s Emirates GBR - currently in 6th - and Jimmy Spithill’s United States in 7th. Even last season runner-up New Zealand is in 5th, while the younger and more inexperienced teams of Spain, Canada and ROCKWOOL Denmark have risen to the top of the leaderboard. This reshuffle - combined with Spain winning its first ever event in LA - demonstrates more than ever ‘the intensity of SailGP’, Delapierre says. “It’s normal to see some of the previous contenders at the back of the fleet because of this intensity’. Teams, he said, must ‘find a way to deal with this’, or are at risk of ‘losing momentum’. “It can destroy your team, so you have to be patient and calm, and just take it as it is.”
In an effort to rise to this challenge, Delapierre has made fundamental changes to his crew line-up. After Los Angeles, Delapierre made his move - poaching Switzerland’s flight controller Jason Saunders, who will race with the team for the first time in Saint-Tropez. The change came ‘after many months’ of consideration, Delapierre says, after he and former flight controller Francois Morvan failed to ‘get on the same page’. Explaining the decision, he says: “I’m just trying to follow my feelings and have no regrets - it’s a super high level sports league, so when you have to make you choice, you have to just trust yourself.”
While the new crew configuration won’t have raced together before Saint-Tropez, Saunders is no stranger to the team. He joined the Orient Express Racing Team — the French Challenger for the 37th America's Cup - alongside Delapierre, wing trimmer Kevin Peponnet and grinder Matthieu Vandame last month. As a result, Delapierre says he is familiar with Saunders’ flight control style. “I truly believe that Jason will give us something special,” he added. “I’m not saying it will immediately be a dream (…) but I’m confident Jason will adapt himself quite quickly, because he knows the team really well.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Delapierre’s ambition remains unchanged. He is focused once again on gaining entry to the three-boat, winner-takes-all Grand Final by ‘taking it step by step, race by race, grand prix by grand prix’. “We are competing in SailGP to be able to reach that Grand Final and once you are there, you know you can win the Championship - that’s the ambition and you achieve ambitions with a step-by-step mindset.”
The 10-strong F50 fleet will return to battle on the waters of Saint-Tropez when the France Sail Grand Prix gets underway on September 9-10.