SailGP’s chief umpire Craig Mitchell has explained the incidents which saw both Switzerland and the U.S. docked crushing season points at the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix.
Switzerland, helmed by Nathan Outteridge, started the event with -4 points on Saturday following an incident with the U.S. team in practice racing where there was contact between the boats.
After a hearing and a further review it was found that Switzerland did not do enough to keep clear and could have avoided the contact.
“We also found that when it became clear that Switzerland wasn’t going to keep clear, the U.S. did everything possible to avoid the contact,” Mitchell explained.
The result was Switzerland starting the event on the back foot and also being docked a painful two points from its overall season score.
The second incident between the U.S. and France took place on Sunday in the fifth fleet race that was later abandoned. The U.S. tried to squeeze inside at gate 2, pushing in front of Denmark and grazing the stern of the French boat.
“When the U.S. came into the mark, the order of entitlement to room was - France, Denmark, U.S.,” Mitchell explained. “The team were trying to slow down and find a way through but they misjudged it and clipped the stern extension of the French boat,” he said.
Just clipping the stern of the French F50 caused enough damage to hand the hefty eight point penalty to the Americans. This punishment, Mitchell said, could have been ‘catastrophic’, but the team was already 10 points ahead of third place. “The eight point deduction meant they were still in second place,” Mitchell says.
Despite this, the penalty meant the U.S. team was docked a crushing four season points, reducing the value of their event win to the equivalent of a fifth place finish.
“If they hadn’t had that contact, they would have been within touching distance of the magic third position on the season leaderboard,” Mitchell says, “they definitely could have done without it.”
Overall during the event, there were a total of 28 protests, resulting in 15 penalties. Eight of these were boundary penalties, which punish teams for straying beyond the course limits, while six were Part 2 (boat on boat) penalties. One OCS penalty was handed to New Zealand for crossing the start line early in the Final.
AUS v NZL
Elsewhere, Mitchell dissected aggressive match racing tactics by New Zealand driver Peter Burling, which resulted in the Australian F50 dramatically nosediving meters from the finish line in the first fleet race.
Despite Australian driver Tom Slingsby criticising the move, Burling’s tactics were completely legal, Mitchell said - the onus was on Australia, the windward boat, to keep clear.
“The Australians did a last minute turn and that’s when they got unstable,” he said, “they were on the edge of control and trying to win the race, but they knew they would have to turn away if New Zealand got close.”
New penalty rule introduced
Following the incident in Copenhagen, which saw Great Britain sustain significant damage after hitting an uncharted rock in training, a new rule has been introduced to crack down on needless damage to the F50s.
This means that teams will be penalised for damage sustained to their F50s through carelessness.
“We introduced a new rule to cover damage and reckless sailing because we want to crack down on damage that can be avoided,” Mitchell explains. “It’s really to make sure that we can keep all boats racing and the tech team stay focused on maintenance, rather than fixing things that shouldn’t have been broken - the athletes need to be alert and looking out all the time - they need to ensure they protect their equipment.”