Both France and Switzerland will race with new configurations in Saint-Tropez, after France poached Swiss flight controller Jason Saunders following Los Angeles.
Saunders replaces outgoing flight controller François Morvan, who has been with the French team since the start of Season 2. Morvan meanwhile has moved straight across to the Swiss team in the same role, and will race with the team for the first time in Saint-Tropez.
France driver Quentin Delapierre said the decision to recruit Saunders had been made ‘over several months’, adding that he and Morvan ‘didn’t manage to get on the same page’. “I had some different approaches than François,” he said.
Explaining the decision, he said: “I’m just trying to follow my feelings and have no regrets - it’s a super high level sports league, so when you have to make you choice, you have to just trust yourself.”
It comes after Saunders joined the Orient Express Racing Team — the French Challenger for the 37th America's Cup - alongside Delapierre, wing trimmer Kevin Peponnet and grinder Matthieu Vandame last month.
Speaking on Saunders’ flight control style, Delapierre added: “His philosophy to control the boat and the flying modes is the same as us - especially Kevin, who is really involved in flight control, so I believe Jason will give us something special.”
He added that ‘I’m not saying it will immediately be a dream’, but was adamant it was the ‘right call’ for the team.
Saunders, who is originally from New Zealand, is also in a relationship with France strategist Manon Audinet (currently on maternity leave), and speaks French. As a result, Delapierre is ‘not afraid of the language barrier’.
He revealed that on board communications are split between English and French anyway, with the more ‘efficient’ English terminology reserved for directional calls.
Schneiter ‘disappointed’ by Saunders departure
Switzerland driver Sebastien Schneiter meanwhile said he was ‘disappointed’ to see Saunders depart the team, especially due to ‘all the investment we put into developing him in this role.’
“After Los Angeles, Jason made the decision to leave the team, which was a big surprise for us and one we were not expecting,’ he said.
However, he said the team ‘respects his decision’ and will now ‘move forward’.
The chance to recruit former France flight controller Morvan was ‘a great opportunity’ for the Swiss team, he said, particularly because Morvan ‘is such an experienced flight controller and someone that we know can do the job straight away’.
“It is a very hard challenge in SailGP to develop new people as we have so little practice time, so we are very happy to welcome him to the team.”
In the longer term however, the goal will be to develop a Swiss athlete in the flight controller role, Schneiter said.
“Looking ahead to the future, for our team it’s really important to form as many Swiss sailors as possible,” he said. “Having François with us means we are not in a big rush to do this, with his experience and knowledge he can help us develop the right person.”