Switzerland driver Sebastien Schneiter has criticized the umpires’ decision to disqualify the team from Cádiz’s first fleet race with a Black Flag.
Switzerland was immediately disqualified from the race for barging in next to ROCKWOOL DEN. The team was forced to bear away to avoid a collision and consequently protested the move.
Only three Black Flags have been handed out in SailGP history - to Spain in Plymouth, Season 2 and to France in Bermuda at the beginning of Season 3. Switzerland’s Black Flag in Spain marks the third.
All three were for starting maneuvers protested by neighboring teams - with umpires agreeing they were too risky.
Looking back on the team’s Black Flag in Spain however, Schneiter said he disagreed with the decision, describing it as ‘super frustrating’.
“As a sailor, you don’t want to watch the race from outside, and we felt it was a really harsh Black Flag,” he said. “We agree it could have been a penalty but a Black Flag was not suitable for me - I think Black Flags should be for dangerous situations’.
He added that the boats ‘were almost parallel, not going fast and there was space’. “I think it was a bit of an overreaction from things that have happened in the past,” he added.
However, Schneiter acquiesced that the team ‘should have know it’s a place where you’re very vulnerable to get a Black Flag’ - with all three incidents involving teams barging in at the start line.
Reflecting on the incident, chief umpire Craig Mitchell described it as a ‘classic Black Flag’, but admitted it had ‘generated a lot of discussion’.
Acknowledging the three meter gap between both boats, he said: “We don’t just give a Black Flag because it’s dangerous, but also because of the advantage or gain.”
Handing the team a penalty instead would have ordered Switzerland to drop 40m behind the offended boat. Teams could be tempted, Mitchell said, to risk such a situation and collect the penalty, rather than bailing out of the start completely.
“At what point does it become a Black Flag?” Mitchell asked. He added: “If Denmark had carried on sailing straight there would have been contact - we can’t just assume that a boat is bearing away - especially if they’ve pressed the protest button’.