Heading into Season 3’s San Francisco finale, there’s just one point separating Quentin Delapierre’s France in third and Ben Ainslie’s Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team in fourth. With Australia guaranteed a spot in the three-boat Grand Final and New Zealand sitting comfortably in second, San Francisco looks set to host a fierce battle between France and Emirates Team GBR in the fight to the Final. Ahead of the event, Emirates Team GBR coach Rob Wilson reflects on the season so far and reveals how the team is gearing up for the final installment of Season 3.
Emirates Team GBR has racked up consistent results this season, which have kept the team in the top half of the leaderboard. The Brits kicked off Season 3 with intention, securing podium positions in Bermuda and Chicago before falling out of the top three for the first time on home waters in Plymouth. Then came Copenhagen which was, Wilson says, ‘a massive low point’. The team hit an uncharted rock in practice, which caused significant damage to the British F50 and ruled them out of competing all weekend.
The ninth place finish meant the team picked up just one point for the event and dragged them down the leaderboard from second overall to fifth. Reflecting on the incident, Wilson says, “we’d certainly be a lot more comfortable now if we hadn’t lost all of those points in Denmark, but that’s racing and you live with it and move on.” In seasons past, the team might have attempted to repair this situation with its tried and tested high risk, high reward racing strategy.
But with an increased penalty points system introduced at the start of Season 3, this option was out of the question. “In Season 2, we got penalty points which really affected us, so we were quite conscious to de-risk Season 3 - we wanted to be quite risk averse,” Wilson says. “Coming out of Copenhagen we still couldn’t afford to go high risk because if we got any penalty points at that point, we’d be really in trouble.” Despite this, he admits that the introduction of the increased penalty points system was ‘the right thing to do’. “When you’re managing so many boats and racing at such high speeds, you really do need to do anything you can to mitigate risk,” he says. But the team's lower risk strategy in Season 3 has, he says, ‘cost a little bit of performance’.
Looking ahead to San Francisco, where the team must beat France in fleet racing to secure a place in the winner-takes-all Grand Final, Wilson says there’s an opportunity for this risk-averse strategy to change. While the team ‘cannot afford to get penalty points’ in fleet racing, ‘there’s room to up the risk level'. “It’s not all or nothing, but we’ll be pushing quite hard, that’s for sure.”
While the team hasn’t ‘100% decided’ on its plan of attack, match racing Delapierre’s team in fleet racing is ‘clearly a possibility’. But Wilson is cautious about this option. "You do really have to be careful, because if you engage with another boat and it goes wrong, suddenly you’re on the back foot.” Equally, engaging while racing in the pack is ‘difficult’ because ‘they have so many opportunities to separate at the gates’. “It’s hard to manage - you’ve really got to pick your time if you are going to engage’.
An overtly aggressive move by the British team on the start line of the fifth fleet race in Christchurch proved this risk. In the approach to the start line, the British F50 maneuvered to push France down the line. But the move cost both boats a good start and put the Brits ‘on the back foot’. Starts in general, which are such a ‘massive part of the fleet racing’, is one of the areas the team is working on heading into San Francisco. “If you look at the start average for the whole season, we’re still in the top four,” Wilson says. “But the last two events haven’t been up to our usual high level.” As a result, the team will be ‘making a couple of small tweaks’ which Wilson hopes will ‘make a big difference.’
Looking ahead to the Grand Final, Wilson expects the French to continue their ‘impressive’ Season 3 performance. “They’ve done an amazing job with how quickly they’ve taken on the F50 and if we get typical San Francisco conditions I’m sure they’ll adapt well”. But he points to the British crew’s proven track record of racing in San Francisco, which ‘will help when there’s such fine margins between the top teams’.
While not winning an event yet this season has, Wilson admits, become a source of ‘frustration’ for the team, he hopes that making ‘couple of small tweaks’, will result in ‘a big difference’. “We’ve looked at ways to improve the consistency and reduce the complexity of the boat handling,” he says. “Hopefully we’ve addressed that and become more robust, but at the end of the day, it’s winning the Grand Final that counts”.
The Mubadala Season 3 Grand Final | San Francisco takes place on May 6-7, with racing kicking off at 2.30pm PDT. Full broadcast information and How To Watch details are HERE. Ticket and event information is HERE.