Excitement is ramping up for the start of a brand new season, with the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier kicking off one June 16. Ahead of Season 4’s opening event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet.
SailGP has returned to Chicago for a brand new season and plenty has happened since we wrapped up Season 3. The big news is that there will be a change in the Canadian team ownership. The previous owners have stepped away and the team is temporarily being operated by SailGP. We currently have four parties interested in taking over the ownership of the team, which we’ll be evaluating over the next month.
We’ll probably make that decision before Los Angeles or just after, which may cause uncertainty for the athletes and wider team. Will the new owners make changes? We’ll wait and see. We know Australia has also been approached by third parties interested in purchasing the team. Will Tom Slingsby take an ownership stake like Ben Ainslie did in Emirates GBR? And what does that mean for the team?
The other big news of course is that Germany has joined the league. The team, which will make their debut in Chicago, has F1 sports star Sebastien Vettel joining as a co-investor alongside Thomas Riedel. I understand Vettel is going to take an active role in the performance and operation of the team. They also have double Olympic bronze medallist Erik Heil as driver, and double Olympic champion Kahena Kunze as strategist. It’s going to be very challenging for Heil coming in. While the rest of the crew has just been announced with some non-German, experienced F50 sailors joining the ranks to ensure Heil can more efficiently get around the racecourse and focus on learning the “driver playbook” and communication skills to effectively manage a six person team. As we know, the F50 is an extremely difficult boat to sail - Jimmy Spithill is one of the most experienced sailors in the league, yet he and the United States finished seventh out of nine last season. So I think Germany has done the right thing by bringing in some F50 experience.
Speaking of the United States, they were the real under performers of Season 3. They won in Saint-Tropez but apart from that, they didn’t really feature and finished behind new teams like France, Canada and Denmark. Their poor form really started in Chicago last season so no doubt they’ll be looking to reverse that trend. I know Jimmy Spithill has been very active over the last month - he definitely doesn’t like finishing at the back of the field, but I doubt they’ve made enough improvements to start winning events.
The other teams that have a lot to do are Spain and Switzerland - the Spanish have a new CEO and I think that will allow the team to really focus on their performance on the water rather than being distracted by their chase for sponsorship.
Elsewhere, Ben Ainslie will be arriving late to Chicago due to personal reasons so double Olympic champion Giles Scott will be driving Emirates GBR for practice. However, Ainslie is also doing the same thing before Los Angeles. So you’ve got to wonder if he’s already lining Giles up to be his successor.
I think talent development is going to become a bigger play with a lot of these teams as we increase events throughout the season and factor in injuries, sickness and other problems. The lack of depth in some of these teams could be season ending, so I suspect we’ll see more teams working on developing an expanded squad as we progress through Season 4.
The forecast is looking good for Chicago this weekend, especially Friday - it’s going to be an exciting start to the new season!
The Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier will take place on June 16 and 17, with racing kicking off at 16:00 CDT. Full broadcast information and How To Watch details are HERE.