The Black Flag awarded to Pierre Delapierre’s French team in the fourth race of the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix was ‘entirely justified’, according to SailGP’s international broadcast commentators.
The fatal error saw the team approach the start line at speed and attempt to barge the British boat aside. As a consequence, Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain was forced to swerve to avoid a collision.
Chief umpire Craig Mitchell responded quickly, issuing the second Black Flag in SailGP history, which immediately disqualified France from the race.
Commentators Stevie Morrison, David ‘Freddie’ Carr and Todd Harris agreed the Black Flag was the correct repercussion for such a ‘reckless’ manoeuvre.
Speaking about the dramatic moment, Morrison said he was ‘surprised’ the French team ‘didn’t back out’ after SailGP’s penalty points system was effectively doubled ahead of Season 3.
“Had Ben [Ainslie] not opened the door, that French boat could have been in really bad shape and it could have been season over,” he said. “I think the umpires were completely right - it was a big mistake.”
Harris agreed: “With all the incidents we had last year, I think it was a smart call to send a message to the fleet that this won’t be tolerated.”
The manoeuvre was similar to one executed by former Spain Driver Phil Robertson in Season 2’s Plymouth Sail Grand Prix, for which Spain was handed the first ever Black Flag. Morrison argued that Delapierre’s error was ‘worse than Phil Robertson’s’ while Carr said Mitchell had no choice but to issue the Black Flag after setting the ‘precedent’ in Plymouth last year.
“The umpire has to be consistent in his calls and Craig [Mitchell] said this is one of the most high risk situations - it was 100% justified,” Carr said.
The mistake was made in the fourth race of the event after the team had bounced back from a ninth place finish in the first race to pick up two second place finishes in fleet races 2 and 3.
“It was tough for them because it blew their weekend,” Carr added. “But they should learn their lessons and don’t try and push in at the top of the line at speed.”
All three commentators agreed that Canada, who finished third overall, made an impressive debut in Bermuda. “Canada were fresh out of the box and were right at the top of the leaderboard after the first day,” said Morrison. “They did extremely well.”
The addition of newcomers Canada and Switzerland which, combined with the temporary absence of Nathan Outteridge’s Japan, means there are now nine boats on the racecourse compared to Season 2’s eight.
“It’s amazing how much of a difference one extra boat made,” Morrison said. “If you were at the back of the pack, it was pretty hard to get forward.”
Carr agreed: “Eight boats going to nine really stood out to me - the battle from mark three through to mark eight or nine was much more intense than we saw last year - that was my favourite bit of the racing.
“I think later on in the season when we have 10 boats on the start line, it’s going to be even more congested.”
Despite the intensified racing and ‘increased racing quality’ across the fleet, according to Harris, Australia remains the team to beat. The team, driven by Tom Slingsby, has now won six of the last nine races and, according to Morrison, ‘looked pretty unbeatable on the last day’.
The team finished first on the podium after discreetly consistent racing which left them with a 4-5-3-4-1 racing record. This consistency is key, Harris said.
“Tom ‘slippery’ Slingsby just doesn’t make major mistakes - he’s consistently on the right manoeuvre at the right time,” he said. “Tom just does a masterful job of keeping it simple and staying out of trouble.”
This is reflected in Australia’s penalty record. In Season 2, the team picked up just 10 penalty points throughout the season - the least accrued by any team.
However, Carr argued that Australia’s triumph in Bermuda had ‘a slightly different flavour’ to their winning performances in Season 2. Instead of finishing in the top three of every fleet race, the team ‘were consistently mid-fleet without being spectacular,’ Carr said.
“It was a very different win - they normally dominate but this didn’t feel like that,” he said. “It felt like they sailed fast, stayed out of trouble and banged in the fours, fives and threes.”
Carr also highlighted the efforts of Ben Ainslie’s British team throughout the weekend, which saw the team finish second overall with a 1-8-1-5-4 racing record.
“On day one, the British were one sticky gate away from winning all three races - that is formidable,” said Carr. “If you’re the Australians - that’s the boat you’re looking over your shoulder at right now.”
On the USA
Todd Harris: “I really thought Jimmy Spithill would do better. They’ve obviously made changes on the boat but you just sensed that they were a little bit out of sorts.”
On Spain and Switzerland
Freddie Carr: “I just felt like Spain didn’t feature all weekend and neither did Switzerland so those two teams have got to have a good look at themselves and think about how they tackle Chicago.”
Stevie Morrison: “With Phil Robertson, Spain were challenging for the top three. Now they’re near the back.”
On New Zealand
Todd Harris: “Blair Tuke and Peter Burning are world class, Olympic gold medallists - they should be doing better than they are. Maybe they’re just not feeling it, maybe they need to made changes on the crew - they’ve got the skills but they just don’t seem to execute it.”
Stevie Morrison: “On New Zealand, I just think - when is it going to happen? I would expect them to be ahead of France.”
On Season 3’s doubled penalty points
Freddie Carr: “I totally understand why the race management and umpires have done it. Some of the collisions we had last year really put the shore crew on the back foot and for safety reasons it’s important to try and keep the boats apart.”
Todd Harris: “Pressure wise, it will be on Spithill and the Americans.”
Stevie Morrison: “I think it could be the best spectating venue in SailGP yet. It’s right on the shoreside, right in the middle of it. It could really spark the imagination of the crowds on the shore.”