The Apex Group Bermuda Sail Grand Prix kicks off on Saturday May 4, with the F50 fleet racing against the epic backdrop of the Great Sound. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts gives his behind the scenes insight of the fleet.

We’re back in Bermuda and we’ll be racing in the brand new location of Morgan’s Point for the first time, which promises to bring our fans closer to the action than ever. This also means we’ll be on a different racecourse area from where the fleet has raced before.

We’re coming into Bermuda after big developments in Christchurch. The big stories were the penalty points dished out to Australia, ROCKWOOL DEN and Emirates GBR - with Australia losing the season lead. ROCKWOOL DEN meanwhile dropped from third to fifth, which has really opened up the battle for third.

Season 4 // SailGP CEO Russell Coutts on New Zealand F50 wing damage

Australia dramatically hit a race mark in the first minutes of the first fleet race and was docked 12 event points and 8 season points for the damage it caused to the team’s F50 and because the umpires felt it could have been avoided. I think if you look at all the information, including videos from different angles, it’s pretty clear it could have been avoided.

Season 4 // Australia crash into race mark in Christchurch

The contentious point however, is whether the penalty of 8 season points was appropriate. ROCKWOOL DEN had a collision with Canada and Emirates GBR hit Spain in practice, and those teams lost 4 season points. I think those incidents were actually a lot more dangerous than Australia’s.

I do think Australia deserved a penalty, but to double the penalty given to the Danish and the British is contentious, and if I was Tom Slingsby I’d be feeling pretty hard done by.

Season 4 // Tom Slingsby debriefs Australia race mark collision in Christchurch

It will be interesting to see how Australia bounces back from that incident when racing begins in Bermuda. It’s hard for any sports person to come out after a catastrophic event, immediately put it behind them and perform, no matter how mentally strong they might be. I think it will be incredible if they can immediately put this behind them and have a strong performance in Bermuda. However, it’s hard to believe they’ll have the same confidence level they had prior to that Christchurch incident when they are in the next tight situation…we’ll see!

Season 4 // Close up of Spain and Emirates GBR crash in Christchurch practice racing

Avoiding incidents and damage like those we saw in Christchurch is likely to be top of all teams’ priorities in Bermuda and I think the strategists will be making sure they keep a watchful eye to keep the teams out of harm’s way. The reaction from Hannah Diamond after the collision they had with Spain said it all. I felt for her, but it also shows how important the strategist role has become. I believe the strategists were at least also partially responsible for the other crashes involving ROCKWOOL DEN and Australia. I’m sure the teams would have thoroughly debriefed those incidents and also discussed the role of the coaching staff who are in direct communication with the boats and have a “birds eye” view with UmpApp.

Season 4 // Crew inspects Emirates GBR F50 damage after collision with Spain in Christchurch

When it comes to the race to third place, the front contenders are Spain, ROCKWOOL DEN and France. France have done a good job of turning it around this season and if they have another strong event here, they’ll be in real contention.

Season 4 // Spain underway on day one of Sydney racing

Spain has been improving too and Diego (Botin) and Florian (Trittel) are coming into Bermuda after two big wins in the 49er class, so they’ll be sailing with confidence. They still lack the time that New Zealand, Australia, France and ROCKWOOL DEN have had in the boat, but if they have a good performance in the strong conditions we’re expecting on Saturday, then they’ll have a lot more confidence to be contenders for the Championship.

Season 4 // Canada with Christchurch fleet on practice day

The other standout boat in Christchurch was Canada. As Phil Robertson (Canada driver) said after Christchurch, after all the chaos and penalty points, Canada has an outside chance of coming back into the mix. The other team I’m impressed by considering their lack of time in the boat is Germany. They’ll definitely be contenders in Season 5 if they keep progressing at the rate they are.

Season 4 // Australia underway in Bermuda practice

Looking ahead to the Grand Final, it’s the Kiwis and the Aussies, and then between the French and the Danes, with the Spanish close behind. Those three are all really close. If I had to pick the podium for this weekend, I’d probably put Canada in there too. It’s really tight between those teams - there’s nothing in it.

Season 4 // U.S., Australia and Germany underway in Bermuda training

The weekend’s forecast is looking strong on Saturday and lighter on Sunday, but still foiling conditions, so I think we’ll be in for a great weekend of racing. It’ll be interesting to see who comes out on top.

The Apex Group Bermuda Sail Grand Prix takes place on May 4/5.