The drivers of France and Spain have revealed their approaches to San Francisco’s fleet racing as both battle for a place in the Championship-deciding Grand Final.

New Zealand is the only team already qualified for the three-boat Grand Final, while triple champions Australia sit in second place with 78 points. Diego Botin’s Spain is in third with 76 points and occupies the last qualification place in the leaderboard, but France lurks close behind with 71 points.

Season 4 // Spain foils past France in background

At this weekend’s San Francisco season decider, all 10 teams will once again go head-to-head across five fleet races. After this, the points will be recalculated and only the top three will proceed into the $2 million, winner-takes-all showdown. This means France still has a chance of making the Grand Final, but will need a stellar performance in fleet racing to get there.

Looking ahead to San Francisco, driver Quentin Delapierre said the five-point margin between the two teams is ‘not a lot’, but will require the team ‘to win the event or be in the top three to get to the Grand Final’.

His intention is ‘not to target Spain from the first race’, he says, describing this as ‘the best way to miss the Grand Final’. “If we do that, we will probably finish [fleet racing] in the middle of the pack.’

Season 4 // France driver Quentin Delapierre in Mixed Zone

The best strategy, he says, is just to focus on sailing clean, fast races.

“We are coming into San Francisco trying to win the event and maximize our advantage against the Australians and Spanish,’ he says, revealing that only after the fourth fleet race will he consider match racing Spain and Australia.

Season 4 // Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix // France and Spain close cross on day two

“If we see them in a bad position and we are in a good one, it would be a good idea to force them to do an error or just block them at the start,” he says, ‘I would prefer to be focused on what we have to do, but of course if they are close to us during a race and there’s an opportunity for us to block them, we will do it.”

It’s the opposite approach to the one taken by Emirates GBR last season, which saw then-driver Ben Ainslie zero-in on the French from the start of San Francisco’s fleet racing. But this, Delapierre says, was ‘a completely different scenario’, with the British just one point behind France in third place.

Season 4 // France SailGP Team // France, NZL and Spain underway

This season’s scenario sees France as the ‘underdog’ in chase of the Grand Final which, Delapierre says, is ‘a good feeling’, adding he’s confident in his team’s ability to perform when it counts.

“As soon as you have pressure, you can reach your very best level,” he says. “If you want to race against the very best and win the best league, you need pressure.”

Despite currently qualifying for the Grand Final, Spain driver Diego Botin takes a similar approach to Delapierre in his ambition to ‘focus on doing the best event we can’, not on other boats.

“The Kiwis are gone - they have a spot in the Grand Final - and if there are no crashes or penalty points then it’s between us, Australia and France,” he says. “The thing that’s going to give us the best chance is just doing well in the event’.

Season 4 // Spain driver Diego Botin close up

Match racing, or trying to keep France behind that Spanish boat, is only something that ‘will come into play at the end of the fleet racing,’ he says. “First it’s about trying to do good races to put us in a comfortable spot, then if things are tight, we will look into it.”

He points to France’s precarious position in fourth, which sees Canada and ROCKWOOL DEN ‘just four points behind them’. “If they can slow us down, they will - we expect that, but they cannot just focus on us - they need to focus on themselves too,” he says.

Botin’s focus extends beyond fleet racing too, with the team preparing to ‘be ready’ in the event of proceeding into the Grand Final showdown alongside New Zealand and (theoretically) Australia.

Season 4 // Spain celebrate after crossing the finish line in Bermuda

“Having done well in the event, we will need to refocus on sailing the course well to give us the best chance of winning the Final too.”

He takes confidence from the team beating New Zealand and Australia to win Bermuda earlier this season, but caveats that by highlighting the ‘different conditions’ of San Francisco. “Those two teams are strong in these conditions and I think our chances will depend a lot on the starts,” he says. “If we don’t get a perfect start, it will be hard.”

With talk of Grand Finals and Championship titles, Botin is keen to retain perspective on what has been an incredible turnaround for the Spanish team in Season 4.

Season 4 // Spain celebrate on board after winning in Bermuda

Last season, the team finished last - ‘now we are talking about big chances of making it into the Grand Final, so this already is a massive accomplishment,’ he says.

While making it into the Grand Final is a huge target for the team, it won’t, he says, ‘sink all the good work we’ve done across the whole season’. Having said that, ‘there’s nothing we want than to do well there - so we’re putting heaps of effort into making it.’

The SailGP Season 4 Grand Final | San Francisco takes place on July 13/14, with racing from 2.30pm-4pm PDT.

Starts November

Season 4 Grand Final