The KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney kicks off on Saturday February 24, with the F50 fleet returning to the iconic city for the 5th time. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts gives his behind the scenes insight of the fleet.

We’re back in Sydney for the fifth time - it’s an interesting venue with a very tight racecourse with Shark Island (renamed Genesis Island for this event) right in the middle. Saturday’s forecast is out of the south around 26 km/h - 30 km/h with gusts up to 37 km/h, while Sunday looks more light to more moderate from the north east - so that will make for an interesting mix of racing this weekend.

Season 4 // Russell Coutts in Dubai

When it comes to the teams, Tom Slingsby’s Australia is leading the standings and you’d have to pick them as the favorite to win this weekend on home waters. Their biggest rival New Zealand has a driver change this weekend, with Nathan Outteridge stepping in for Peter Burling, who is expecting his first baby back home. Nathan is sailing with Peter as co-driver in the America’s Cup so it makes logical sense, but it also says something about the strength of Australia sailing because the Kiwis could have chosen any number of people, but went with Nathan. They clearly don’t want to lose any points at this stage of the season - they’re second overall on the leaderboard but they definitely don’t want to have a bad event here in Sydney.

Having said that, Nathan had a surprisingly poor performance in the driver’s seat of ROCKWOOL DEN in Abu Dhabi. They finished in 9th overall, in conditions I expected them to do well in. But he’s got a very strong team backing him here - probably the strongest team he’s ever raced with on an F50 - but it’s still not going to be easy for them to win here. I’d be surprised if they were top of the leaderboard at the end of this event, then again we are talking about one of the most talented sailors of this generation!

Meanwhile, Taylor Canfield’s United States is a new team that has come in and they’re still sitting in equal third on the leaderboard. They’ve had two events now and fortunately for them they’ve both been light wind events. They’re not going to have that luxury this time and they’re not going to have a lot of time on the water before the event. I think everyone was surprised when they came third in the last event given their lack of time in the boat, however I don’t see a repeat of that good performance this weekend. The conditions are far from ideal for them.

ROCKWOOL DEN was obviously disappointed with the result in Abu Dhabi, although they won’t say that publicly - but they didn’t bring Nathan Outteridge in to come 9th and drop from 2nd to joint 3rd with the USA. Having said that, Tom Slingsby has picked the Danish as one of the teams to beat in this event. They’re fast in strong winds and with Nicolai back in the driving seat that should settle things down.

Season 4 // Nathan Outteridge at Sydney press conference

Spain meanwhile started the season strong and then went off the boil a bit in the mid part of the season but came back in the last event. They haven’t had a lot of time in the boat in stronger winds so I think if they come out of Saturday in the top five they’ll be in with a chance because Sunday will be back to light to moderate winds.

New Emirates GBR driver Giles Scott didn’t have a great event in Abu Dhabi although I wouldn’t have expected him to, given his lack of time in the boat. But he’ll have Aussies Luke Parkinson and Iain Jensen sitting alongside him in this event and will rely on them, particularly Jensen, to make the right calls around the racecourse. Giles, Erik Heil and Taylor Canfield are the only drivers who have never raced this racecourse - all the other teams have. It’s a pretty intimidating course, particularly on Saturday, so I think if Emirates GBR featured in the top half of the leaderboard it would be a great result for them.

Then you start looking at the other teams - France, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. France dominated the event here last season but this weekend it will be totally different conditions. Sydney is really make or break for these four teams - if they don’t do well in the next two events they’re not going to feature in San Francisco at the end of season Grand Final.

Season 4 // Germany and the United States undertake training on Sydney Harbour

Canada is an interesting team. Driver Phil Robertson is the maverick of the league and has moments of absolute brilliance mixed in with moments that are not so brilliant. But it’s worth remembering they’ve had two podium finishes this season and mainly finished in the top half of the fleet, but they’re sitting in 8th overall because of all the penalty points they’ve got. Without those, they might be sitting in 5th. Their performance really depends on what Phil turns up on the start line - they could win the event or they could be at the back of the fleet arguing with the umpires.

Season 4 // Phil Robertson at Sydney press conference

This is an event where the teams who have got their act together and are confident on a short racecourse in shifty winds will do well. Sydney will favor the teams who have a solid, all-round performance so I think it’ll be a stretch for Germany, Switzerland or Emirates Great Britain to feature. It’s going to be interesting racing this weekend but my pick is for Australia, Denmark, New Zealand and Canada to be battling it out for the podium. Having said that, we’ve had 7 different winners this season so I’m not making that prediction with a huge amount of confidence.

The KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney takes place on February 24-25, with racing from 16:00 AEDT.