SailGP presenter Lisa Darmanin dissects Sydney's fast and furious racing action, from France's flawless performance to Diego Botin's baptism of fire as Spain's new driver.
Sydney was probably the most exciting racing we’ve had in SailGP so far. There were so many overtakes, crosses and close mark roundings - it was just action packed. More teams are becoming more competitive and that means that mistakes are being punished harder. Teams are getting more aggressive around the race track and are prepared to push each other around at marks. Everyone is putting the throttle down and fighting for every point. Despite France winning every race, you didn’t know who was going to win until the end of each race and, as a sports fan, that’s exactly what you want. It really was anyone’s game.
I was surprised by how much the French dominated. Coming off the back of a bad event in Singapore (where France finished eighth), you might have expected their confidence to be knocked. But they came out in some of the most challenging conditions of the season and just dominated. It was like Quentin Delapierre [France driver] was out there with a vengeance to prove Singapore’s performance was an anomaly. His aggression at the start has been a massive asset to him in the second half of the season. It was critical to get off the start line well in Sydney because the first turn after mark one was so difficult if you weren’t in the first couple of boats. Quentin’s starts are getting France in the mix and now they have the skills to stay out in front.
Sydney’s conditions were extremely challenging - not only was it windy, but it was gusty and shifty as well. This meant the power of the boat and the angle of the wind were changing all the time and forced the wing trimmer, flight controller and driver to work overtime. There was just nowhere to hide - you couldn’t cover up mistakes and France just didn’t make many. There might be a suggestion that France had an easier time because Australia and New Zealand had technical issues.
Australia should have won the first race and the mistake that cost them was getting into the big lull near the spectator boats. But France had to deal with the same situation and they executed it well. And yes, New Zealand had a technical issue in the first race, but they didn’t have any technical issues after that. For the French to dominate the racing and perform under the pressure of the conditions when they weren’t the favorite was very impressive.
The United States had a great event but I think they’re still out of the running for the San Francisco Grand Final. Mathematically, it’s possible, but the teams they need to have massive mistakes are not making any errors right now. Australia and New Zealand are strong, France has shown that they’re a key player, and although the British keep making mistakes, they’re super consistent. For the United States to make the Final, you need two of those four teams to have catastrophic problems. It’s taken them a long time to put it all together, but I think they’ll be a contender for next season.
Sydney was also Diego Botin’s debut event as Spain’s driver. Sydney Harbour is one of the hardest places to learn how to be a driver. You have no runway or time to get into the groove before you do a maneuver because you’re always setting up for the next one. While Spain didn’t sail that well results-wise, they didn’t have any major incidents and you’d take that after such a baptism of fire.
Looking at the overall leaderboard after Sydney, the Kiwis have got to be feeling the pressure heading into Christchurch. Not only is France just one point behind them, but the British are only two points behind that. They’ve gone from challenging the Australians to fighting for a place in the Grand Final. It’s disappointing for them to lose that buffer. The pressure will be on for them at their first home event - the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch.
It’s going to be amazing for SailGP to go to New Zealand. Not only because of the size of the fan base but because of the venue. Pete [Burling, New Zealand driver] described it as a fjord - so you can just imagine these beautiful blue waters and big mountains - it’s like a postcard. Seeing the boats ripping around Lyttelton Harbour is going to be unreal.”