SailGP’s commentators have unpacked the fast and furious racing action of Season 3’s final chapter in Season 3, pointing to the aggressive match racing tactics deployed by Emirates GBR in fleet racing as a key highlight.
With just one point separating Emirates GBR and France heading into the weekend, the Brits had to go all out to push the French out of the top three and claim a place in the winner-takes-all Grand Final.
As a result, Ben Ainslie’s crew zeroed in on France, blocking their pre-starts and pushing them down the line. The battle between the two boats dominated fleet racing on Saturday and saw the Brits finish with a 2-1-2-4-5 racing record, compared to France’s lackluster 6-8-6-1-6.
The Brits’ strategy to push France out of the final three boats was ‘executed perfectly’ by Ainslie, commentator Todd Harris said. “It took the French out of their game plan - Ainslie just did a number on them.” Stevie Morrison agreed, “the match racing between the two teams was interesting to see - Ben was very calculated in what he did and it was a real plan to kick the French out of the top three.”
Emily Nagel however said she was ‘disappointed’ in how quickly the battle was over. “I think everyone expected a bit more from the French,” she said. “By the second day, they were out.”
But she added Quentin Delapierre’s team has ‘come a long way’ since he took over. “It was impressive sailing from them and there’s definitely more to come from them next season.”
The tables were turned in the pre-start of the Grand Final, when Australia managed to hook Emirates GBR as they tacked into the starting box.
All three commentators voiced surprise at Ainslie’s error to leave himself vulnerable in such a critical moment.
“I was surprised he [Ainslie] put himself in that situation,” Morrison said. “He was early to the line and the Aussies just put the British out of the equation.”
Nagel agreed, adding that the Brits’ tried and tested starting strategy was to blame. “I was disappointed that the British let that happen,” she said. “You would have expected that, knowing they were in a Grand Final, they’d have their eyes out of the boat a little bit more. They should have known exactly where the other two boats were.”
Elsewhere, all three commentators highlighted the fleet racing performance of eventual Season 3 champions Australia. With a clear 12-point lead heading into San Francisco, Tom Slingsby’s crew was the only one in the fleet to have pre-qualified for the Grand Final, meaning they didn’t need to perform in fleet racing at all.
However, the team came out firing, picking up a dominating 1-3-1-2-1 racing record and winning the San Francisco event, as well as the overall season.
Reflecting on the Aussies’ performance, Morrison said the team’s fleet racing efforts highlights ‘the importance of going into a three boat Final with momentum’.
“Tom has said himself that he’s a confidence sailor and he still judges himself on the last race he’s done - that’s something the other teams could learn from.”
He added that the Aussies winning the event and topping it off by winning the Grand Final and Season 3 Championship showed that ‘they thoroughly deserved to win - it was so impressive they managed to do that.”
Harris agreed: “I’m not sure Tom ever plays it safe - he just rises to the occasion.”
Both highlighted the ‘close racing’ between the Aussies and Kiwis in the Grand Final, which saw New Zealand almost steal the lead when the green and gold F50 fell off the foils on the final leg.
“In the last two legs, you could see that the Kiwis just began to figure out the course,” Harris said, “You could see the lead shrinking.”
The moment the Aussies fell off the foils and consequent march of the Kiwis showed that ‘you just can’t make mistakes in SailGP,’ Nagel said.
“It was just brilliant racing. The Kiwis almost had it and we were all just holding our breath.” She added that the Grand Final was ‘the best final yet’.
“In terms of how it played out, the rivalry and the calibre of the racing - it was just so exciting to watch.”