The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council kicks off on January 13, with the F50 fleet going to battle in the UAE capital for the first time. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet.
We’re in Abu Dhabi for the first time and for the second UAE event with Mubadala as a title sponsor. Although it’s our first time in Abu Dhabi, the site is very similar to Dubai, with the Adrenaline Lounge and Grandstand seating posited right up against the seawall. This is going to provide a real spectacle for the fans, especially if we add an additional reaching mark to the racecourse, which will mean the racing will take place much closer to the Grandstands. The venue is almost entirely sold out and I think Abu Dhabi will provide a great experience for the fans, even if the winds stay light this weekend.
For the first time, we have a global music act playing straight after racing - Take That will play a special performance packed with fan-favorite hits on Saturday, which adds another dimension to the fan experience. This is the start of a long term relationship between SailGP and Abu Dhabi - we’ll be returning for many years to come and will be hosting the Grand Final here at the end of Season 5 onwards.
Abu Dhabi also marks the first event where the league’s increased bonus prize money comes into play. As professional athletes, of course they are all paid to sail in the league but the prize money offers a bonus to those that make it onto the podium. The total prize money at each event has increased to $400K, distributed between the three top teams, with $200K going to the winner. The Grand Final prize money has also doubled, from $1M to $2M for the winning team – while $350K will be awarded to the team that wins the season on points ahead of the three-boat Championship Final. This is great for our athletes and gives them extra incentive to perform well and get on the podium.
It’s looking like light winds here in Abu Dhabi, which means we’ll be bringing back the 29m wing all weekend. Teams won’t have a choice about which wing they race with, like they did on the second day of Dubai, the Class Authority will be making that call, which means we’re back to business as usual. The good news is that we have upcoming venues of Sydney, Christchurch, Bermuda and San Francisco which should deliver some windier race days. Abu Dhabi's light winds have however allowed new sailors like Eric Heil, Taylor Canfield and now Giles Scott to get accustomed to the F50 in relatively benign conditions.
When it comes to teams, the big news is that Ben Ainslie has appointed double Olympic Champion Giles Scott as his immediate replacement behind the Emirates GBR wheel. Ben is now 46 years old (he turns 47 in February) while Giles is 10 years younger and with two Olympic gold medals to prove he knows how to sail! This is an inspired move by Ainslie, who will be remaining the team CEO and co-owner, and will be helping the team from the sidelines for the first time in Abu Dhabi. With his knowledge, he will continue to be an incredible asset for the team and will obviously have the respect of his sailors. There is no question that Giles can step into this role and incredibly, he won the first practice race today.
ROCKWOOL DEN, currently second on the season leaderboard, will be without driver Nicolai Sehested this weekend, and former Japan driver Nathan Outteridge will be subbing in instead. Outteridge is known for his ability to triumph, particularly in light wind conditions. With him behind the wheel, it’s possible ROCKWOOL DEN could make the Final and win their first ever event, even though Outteridge has had very little time behind the wheel since Season 2. Who knows, if he did manage to win this weekend that might be the catalyst to get him back behind the wheel for one of the new teams joining in Season 5.
When we look further down the leaderboard, Canada, currently in 7th, had an excellent performance in Dubai - almost winning the event. Dubai was the first event with new wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James and new coach Philippe Presti on the team. In my opinion, those two new signings have added stability to Phil, but with the team in 7th place, there’s still plenty of work to do as we head into the business end of the season.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Spain makes it onto the podium. They had a disastrous event in Dubai, finishing in 10th but I’ve been watching them over the last few days and feel they are sailing well enough to win this event.
Abu Dhabi promises plenty of challenging racing, tricky conditions and we’re looking forward to welcoming a whole load of new fans to SailGP. It will be a light wind weekend, but as we saw in Dubai, those conditions can still produce some exciting racing.
The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council takes place on January 13-14, with racing from 2pm GST.
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