SailGP presenter Lisa Darmanin reflects on the fast and furious racing action of the Mubadala SailGP Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco, from Emirates GBR’s match racing tactics against the French to Australia falling off the foils just meters from the finish line.
One of the highlights of fleet racing in San Francisco was watching the match racing between Emirates GBR and France in the lead up to the Grand Final. It was pretty heartbreaking for the French team but Ben Ainslie is known as the ‘GOAT’ for a reason and we really saw him rise to the occasion.
France did so well in Season 3, but they performed mostly under the radar. The team never had a target on their back, but in San Francisco the pressure was really on. I don’t think [France driver] Quentin Delapierre expected Ben to be that aggressive that early on. But why would you give your competitor any chance to breathe? When you know someone is coming for you, you don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. The best thing you can do is go for them first. I think Quentin tried to do that at stages throughout the weekend, but he just got outplayed by the Brits.
Seeing those super fast, flying catamarans match racing in head to head battles was impressive to watch and everyone in the fleet was pushing. There were lots of close situations with Canada and the United States because those teams had nothing to lose, but it also showed that the boats can really come within centimeters of each other. The skillset is being elevated now - the athletes are willing to push the boats closer together because they’re able to execute maneuvers in tight situations.
Coming into the Grand Final, we saw [Australia driver] Tom Slingsby give Ben a bit of his own medicine in the pre-start. Ben got himself in a vulnerable position, the Aussies had the opportunity to attack and they took it. It felt like Ben outclassed Quentin in fleet racing but then he got outclassed himself by Tom. The Aussies seized opportunities throughout the weekend to try and slow down their competitors.
I wasn’t surprised that the Brits struggled in the Grand Final. It would have been a miracle if they had come into the winner-takes-all race and won after not winning an event all season. I think Ben had been sailing a different tactic throughout the weekend and had to shift into a speed race in the Grand Final. The other thing to bear in mind is that the wind was different on the second day of racing.
On the first day of racing, it was really flicky and there was an ability to pick the shifts and sail less distance, which Hannah [Mills, Emirates GBR strategist] and Ben are really good at. But on the second day of racing, it was much more about staying in the pressure and going faster for longer - and that’s where Australia and New Zealand have an advantage over the Brits. Ben got caught in light wind a few times. The Aussies are really good at popping back up and when they do fall off the foils. That’s how they hung onto the Final in the end.
When the Aussies fell off the foils at such a critical moment and then had to execute another maneuver, it was incredibly stressful to watch. I try to be as objective as possible, but I’m Australian, I had a family member on the boat and I really thought the Aussies deserved to win. But it was fun to watch. The Kiwis really took it to them and in the end I think the best boat won.
If Australia didn’t manage to get up on the foils in that millisecond, it would have been all over. It just goes to show how critical those maneuvers are and how every single second counts. If the Kiwis had been a bit closer, they might have been able to get a penalty on them and it would have all been over. It was a close and exciting match - it was everything you want from a Final.