SailGP’s chief umpire Craig Mitchell has unpacked all the penalty drama from Season 3 so far, revealing the top offenders and cleanest teams.
Jimmy Spithill’s United States is currently top of the penalty leaderboard with a total of 25 penalties, followed by Peter Burling’s New Zealand with 19 and defending champions Australia with 15.
Meanwhile Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain, which picked up the most amount of penalties in Season 2 including both on-water penalties and contact, is now bottom of the penalty leaderboard level with Denmark. Both teams have eight penalty points overall.
Mitchell said this shift was a direct result of the tough new penalty points system introduced in Season 3, which was designed to crack down on contact and collisions on the racecourse.
The policy doubled penalty points for contact between rival boats after a series of incidents in Season 2, including an incident where Great Britain caused serious damage to one of Japan’s hulls.
“Doubling the penalty points in Season 3 has had a marked effect in the number of instances of contact and damage that we’ve seen,” Mitchell said.
So far a total of 20 penalty points have been handed out for contact and damage equivalent to 10 points under Season 2 rules. By comparison, a total of 42 were distributed in Season 2.
“The organizing authority was keen to deter teams from making contact - it got to the point where there were contact incidents at most events and some were pretty serious,” Mitchell added.
Reflecting on Great Britain’s position alongside Denmark as the least offending team, Mitchell said the team had ‘changed the way they sail to reduce their risk.”
However, he questioned whether two of the top offenders Australia and New Zealand had earned their commanding leaderboard positions by taking more risks.
“It seems that New Zealand are sailing with a higher risk strategy, but then look at the rewards,” he said. “Australia have received a lot of penalties too, though their risk/reward looks like it’s paying off.”
Mitchell and his team of umpires hand out penalty points for contact and damage, which differ from the penalties distributed for boundary infringements, early starts and boat-on-boat Part 2 penalties. These penalty points are especially painful because they also result in point reductions from the season championship leaderboard.
The accumulation of four penalty points at an event results in a deduction of two season points, five to eight penalty points results in a deduction of four season points, nine to twelve penalty points results in a deduction of eight season points and accumulating over 13 points at an event results in a deduction of 12 season points.
So far this season, Spain has picked up a four-point penalty for hitting Great Britain on the approach to the start line of the first fleet race at the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix, resulting in the loss of two season points. With those two season points, Spain would still be sitting in eighth place on the overall leaderboard, but with 24 points instead of 22.
“Jordi [Xammar, Spain driver] was trying to fit into a gap that wasn’t there, misjudged it and just gave Great Britain a tap from astern,” Mitchell explained.
Elsewhere, there were two incidents at the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix in Saint-Tropez.
Switzerland, which was helmed by Nathan Outteridge, started the event with -4 points after contact with the United States team in practice racing. Without this incident, Switzerland would still be sitting last on the leaderboard, but with 18 points instead of 16.
However, the most painful penalty went the way of the United States, which was punished for grazing the stern of the French boat. The incident occurred when the team tried to squeeze inside the second gate in the fifth fleet race. It earned the United States a total of eight penalty points, resulting in a devastating reduction of four season points. This meant that the United States’ win at Saint-Tropez was downgraded to the equivalent to a fifth place finish. Without the incident, the team would have 43 points instead of 39 and would now be sitting in fifth place overall rather than in seventh.
“They really could have done without those additional penalty points,” Mitchell said, “without them, they would be in the mix.”
The final penalty points incident so far this season saw four points handed to New Zealand at the Dubai Sail Grand Prix for contact with Switzerland on the start line of the fifth fleet race.
The Kiwis were attempting to find a gap in the fleet line-up when their rudder shaft glanced off the windward hull of Switzerland. This earned them a four-point penalty and brought them level on points with Australia after six fleet races, essentially handing the Aussies the opportunity to scrape into the Final in their place.
“They were a bit on the back foot leading into the start and they took the chance of going into a gap that didn’t open up, and the risk didn’t pay off,” Mitchell said. The incident also resulted in the deduction of two season points. The Kiwis remain in second place overall, but are now just one-point ahead of the French in third.