As SailGP prepares to wrap up 2023 with the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet.
We’re almost halfway through Season 4 and next up, we’re heading to Dubai. One of the best things about Dubai is that it’s a deep water venue, which allows the F50s to get incredibly close to the fans on the shore. It’s also a small and totally enclosed harbor, with pretty much perfectly smooth water. That will favor the teams with less time in the boat - like Germany or Spain.
Having said that, the three teams that came out on top in Dubai last season were Australia, Emirates GBR and France. But this time, the Australians will be racing without Tom Slingsby at the helm because his wife will be having a baby. Instead, we revealed in the latest Racing on the Edge episode that former United States driver Jimmy Spithill will be subbing in to drive the boat.
Spithill has sailed extensively with many of the Australian team before - specifically Sam Newton, Kyle Langford and Kinley Fowler. Jimmy has just announced that he’s leaving the U.S. team to set up an Italian team for Season 5 - and he’s riding a high after winning the last event in Spain and also getting on the podium in Italy. He’s competitive and he’ll be motivated to win again with the Australians in Dubai - especially given Slingsby hasn’t won an event yet this season. When it comes to Slingsby’s choice for substitute driver in Dubai - I’m not surprised he went with Jimmy. This is a professional sport and you want to put the best team on the racecourse that you can.
The other consideration for Slingsby would have been the bonus prize money that will also increase from Abu Dhabi onwards. The Grand Final prize money will double, from $1M to $2M - while $350K will be awarded to the top team on points ahead of the three-boat Championship Final. In fact the total prize money at each event will also increase to $400K, to be distributed between the top three sailing teams. As the league grows commercially, this prize pool will continue to increase, which is great news for our athletes - and means there’s even more reason for teams to push to get on the podium.
Another huge piece of news is the sale of the U.S. team, which has an incredibly impressive ownership structure behind it. Commercially, the group of celebrity investors now on board have the potential to take the team to a whole new level, but competitively they may have some issues, at least initially and I think they’d acknowledge that.
They’ve lost some key team members they should have retained in my opinion, at least for the initial events to get Taylor Canfield comfortable in the driving seat. Most importantly perhaps, they’ve lost wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James who’s been acquired by the Canadian team. I suspect, with everything going on, the new management did not get into negotiations with key athletes early enough and clearly in professional sports, other teams will move quickly if you don’t act fast.
This means the U.S. team will be bringing in multiple new crew members alongside a new driver - that’s a bold move. I think their long term strategy for the crew is great - they have big ambition to develop American talent and have an all-American team. But it might have been wise to keep established sailors around Canfield and get him comfortable before moving onto the next phase of development. Luckily, Dubai is probably one of the most straightforward venues on the calendar, so their lack of time in the boat won’t be as exposed as it might have been in a trickier venue like Cadiz.
Canada swapping out wing trimmer Chris Draper for Paul Campbell-James is also a pretty significant change but again, Dubai’s conditions will work in their favor. If you’re going to make a change like that, it’s best to do it as you’re moving to a perfectly smooth water venue. Canada could easily do quite well in Dubai - I wouldn’t rule them out even with such a dramatic change in their line-up.
Dubai could also see the return of the 29m wing to the circuit after New Zealand’s equipment failure in Saint-Tropez. Our wing designers and engineers have confirmed they know why the wing failed and will be meeting with all teams in Dubai to brief them on exactly what went wrong, the results of the analysis, and how to avoid a similar equipment failure in future. Elsewhere, the second on-water testing phase of our in-development T-Foils will take place in Dubai. These new foils are designed to provide more control at high speed and supercharge the on-water performance. We could see our current speed record (99.94 km/h) broken by speeds approaching 110 km/h and we hope to begin racing with the new foils in Season 5.
As 2023 draws to a close, we’ve been incredibly busy behind the scenes, which is reflected in the sheer amount of news, announcements and developments coming to light. We have the sale of the U.S. team, Jimmy Spithill launching an Italian team and driving for Australia in Dubai, changes to the Canadian crew, the return of the 29m wing, the testing of our new T-Foils, and plenty of team ownership and commercial partnership developments underway. It’s also known that we’ve canceled the Auckland event and are in discussions to find a new location for our Season 4 New Zealand event. We’re still working to confirm an alternate venue, which would take place on the same dates as previously announced, but time is running out.
The full-length, extended Russell Report is available to Dock members only. Sign up to gain access.