The third and final event of Season 4’s European leg - the Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía-Cádiz - gets underway this weekend. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet.
We’re returning to Spain this weekend to race on the Bay of Cádiz. The thing to remember about this racecourse is the very confused sea state. The waves bounce off the city walls, creating waves in multiple directions.
This makes it very hard for teams to judge maneuvers or fly the boat consistently. We have fairly light winds forecast this weekend and unfortunately we will be operating with just the 24m wings. The good news is that New Zealand’s wing is on site and we’ll have the 29m wings back available for use from Dubai onwards with the additional parts currently being shipped from New Zealand.
Looking at the teams, it’s clear to see that Emirates GBR, who have won the last two events, are looking a lot more solid this season. It’s been a long time coming. The quality of the team onboard, from the back to the front, is so solid so to be honest I think we were all expecting them to be a lot better in Season 3. However, perhaps the British have finally hit their straps, and it seems they’ve reached the stage where they’re really challenging the Australians for the overall Championship title.
Taranto was an eventful Sail Grand Prix with challenging conditions on day 1 where we had an unfortunate incident with the injury of United States flight controller Hans Henken. Regardless of that incident, the U.S. team had a tremendous fight back on day two of Taranto and that really showed the resolve of the entire team - to bounce back from Hans’ injury and qualify for the Final. With Hans back in California recovering, the U.S. team have Taylor Canfield subbing in for flight control in his absence. It’s going to be a big ask for Taylor to come in with basically no practice. However, if we go down to a reduced number of crew this weekend, it’s unlikely he will sail with the team anyway.
Spain have clearly had a dramatic improvement this season, but they’re still not getting off the starting line as cleanly or consistently as they need to. That’s certainly been hurting them in recent events. When they won in Los Angeles, they had amazing starts. We also saw in the windy conditions of Taranto’s first day that they’re not yet comfortable to push the boat hard - they haven’t got that confidence in windy conditions.
ROCKWOOL Denmark is another team that has just kept improving. My impression is that they are really fast and capable of moving through the fleet. All they need to do is eliminate some of the simple errors that have been preventing them from achieving better results. If they can tidy up their starts and a couple of technical decisions around the racecourse, I think we’ll see them on the podium a lot more. I’ve got to admit that I have to eat my words with this team - I didn’t think they would make it, but they’ve now proven they can be and are real contenders.
I’m also super impressed with Germany - they’ve shown they have enormous potential despite sitting at the bottom of the leaderboard. You’ve got to bear in mind that they had a collision in LA ,which cost them points, and broke their daggerboard in Taranto. Yet before that happened, the team’s performance in Taranto was staggering. They were sitting around mid-fleet and even to just deliver the boat around the course in those conditions with the lack of experience they have on an F50 is amazing. So I have high hopes for this German team. Having said that, they won’t have their usual strategist Kahena Kunze in Cádiz - this could be a fairly major change given that she was also instrumental in the maneuvers.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got to ask what’s up with Canada? Seriously, they were one of the top emerging teams by the end of Season 3 and yet they’ve just had a horror start to Season 4. I don’t get it. Phil Robertson (Canada driver), is brilliant at times but at other times he just doesn’t show up. I can only imagine the frustration of someone like (wing trimmer) Chris Draper and the coaching team. Knowing when to encourage Phil to back himself and when to play the averages is obviously key.
Switzerland is another team that just hasn’t been performing as well as they should. They’ve brought Glen Ashby and Nathan Outteridge on board and so far it just hasn’t made the difference they would have been hoping for. The Swiss team is currently sitting in 9th but they’re lucky not to be sitting in 10th - the German team is performing better than them in my opinion.
France is another team that’s had an incredibly poor start to the season - however they had a more encouraging performance in Taranto. The latest Racing on the Edge episode is very instructive on France’s performance. If you look back at Sydney in Season 3, they absolutely dominated in those high winds. But if you look back at what happened in San Francisco - when [France driver] Quentin Delapierre got absolutely schooled by [Emirates GBR driver] Ben Ainslie - since then France just hasn’t performed. I look back at that day and wonder if that knocked Quentin’s confidence.
Speaking of Burling - New Zealand are finally back in Cádiz. They’re probably going to be feeling slightly less practiced than the other teams - they’ve missed one and half events, so I think Pete and Blair are going to be hungry to get out there and secure a podium result. They’re another team that needs to perform now because they won’t want to slip any further behind at this stage of the season.