The Spain Sail Grand Prix Andalucía - Cádiz presented by NEAR kicks off today (September 24) with SailGP’s nine turbo-charged hydro-foiling F50s going head to head on the Bay of Cádiz. Ahead of the sixth event of Season 3, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insights of the fleet.
We’re in Cádiz and Sébastien Schneiter is back driving the Swiss F50. It will be interesting to see how much Seb has learnt from Nathan Outteridge. In some ways, it’s natural that it would take Nathan time to get to know the team and refine the comms, which is so critical in this racing. The forecast is for fairly steady, medium winds - conditions that make it much easier for teams like Switzerland to be more competitive so it will be interesting to see if they can perform. I’m not suggesting they’ll finish at the front, but there’s a possibility they could come in around mid-fleet.
I’d say the same about the Spanish - I think there’s a good chance we will see a better performance from them. They’ve gone from the team least involved with the data analytics team to the most involved, and they’ve identified some key areas of improvement to focus on so you’re definitely going to see more consistency and a better performance from them. For sure, their moding will improve, both in terms of their consistency in hitting their target speeds but also flying the boat more bow down. Have they yet got what it takes to win? I don’t think so, but they certainly have plenty of talent onboard and I could see them vying for a podium spot if all the stars align and they have a good event.
I’ve said it before but I still think there are questions around whether they’ve got the right athletes in the right positions. If things don’t improve then it should be a consideration to flip Jordi (driver) and Diego (flight controller). Like any sports team, if a particular combination isn’t getting the results, they need to look at how best to organize their team.
When it comes to the Americans, obviously they had a great event in Saint-Tropez. The big difference was that they started well and sailed a lot better tactically, but will they do it again in Cádiz? In Saint-Tropez, we were at opposite ends of the spectrum with high winds on Saturday and then very light winds on Sunday and I would say both those conditions were a strength of the American team in Season 2. One of the big improvements in Saint-Tropez was their starts. Their performance in the steady winds in Cadiz will come down to the starts - if they have good starts this weekend, they’ll have a good event. If they start anything like they did in Copenhagen, they won’t as I don’t think there will be many passing lanes here.
Great Britain meanwhile hasn’t won an event since Bermuda in Season 2. Just when their confidence has been building, they’ve had these unsettling events like collisions and hitting the bottom which has upset their momentum. We all know that confidence is huge in sports and you can’t really fudge that. It’s probably even dented the confidence of the world’s best sailor on paper - Ben Ainslie. It’s going to take a lot to swing that around but there were encouraging signs in St Tropez. We’re all waiting to see Ben Ainslie at his best - I think all sailing fans want to see that.
We were all so excited by the performance of the Canadians in the first two events but they haven’t shone at all since. I remember Phil Robertson saying that if new teams were ever going to perform it’s in steady winds and moderate breezes, and that’s exactly what we’ve got this weekend. The Canadians could easily return to better form in this event, I wouldn’t rule them out.
It’s fair to say that the Kiwis are just rising in confidence - they’re going from strength to strength and they’ve turned their poor starts into consistently brilliant starts in the last 3 events. They continue to be the team to beat.
And then you’ve got the Aussies, who’ve been unseated by the Kiwis as the favorite to win events now. They should have made the podium in the last two events and Saint Tropez day one delivered perfect conditions for them. When you look at the races in detail, they should have won the first race but they tried to squeeze up around the final mark and the Kiwis came foiling in from behind and took them out. Slingsby’s reaction to that was really interesting - he basically blamed it on the Kiwis. I found it staggering - did he really expect the Kiwis would just wave them on by and let them win?
Slingsby has been punished in the last two events by being caught out as the windward boat not keeping sufficiently clear. But in practice racing yesterday they looked like they may have returned to form and they won pretty comfortably. The rivalry between the Aussies and Kiwis is getting really interesting to say the least!
My prediction for the three teams to make the podium, which in truth is getting to be a pretty wild guess these days, is; Australia, New Zealand and the British…..with Canada and USA being the most likely to upset that order.