Aussie driver Tom Slingsby has criticized the decision of SailGP umpires to uphold the severity of the penalty handed to Australia for hitting a race mark in Christchurch.

The incident occurred shortly after Mark 1 in the first fleet race of the event when Slingsby was forced to choose between colliding with Canada or taking avoiding action to hit a race mark instead. He chose the latter.

The incident, which caused serious damage to Australia’s F50, resulted in the most severe penalty in SailGP history - the loss of 12 event points and 8 season points. This meant Australia dropped from the top spot of the season leaderboard to second overall - nine points behind new leaders New Zealand.

Following the event, Australia appealed the severity of the penalty but was unsuccessful - a decision Slingsby described as ‘totally unfair’.

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

Speaking on social media, he said: “This is double the highest penalty points ever given and it’s defined as reckless sailing - so in their minds this is the most reckless sailing we’ve ever seen in SailGP, which is definitely not the case.”

He added: “The fact is that we would have been no better off if we’d have done a reckless maneuver and running straight through Canada, injuring people, we would have received exactly the same amount of penalty points.”

Season 4 // Australia mark collision incident in Christchurch Mark 1

Reflecting on the decision, SailGP’s chief umpire Craig Mitchell said the 12-point penalty was upheld for ‘breaking Rule 57’ and ‘causing serious damage’ to the team’s F50 by ‘running over the finish line mark in the first race.’

Rule 57, which is specific to SailGP, penalizes teams for causing damage to their own or other F50s by reckless sailing. The severity of the damage is defined as 'minor damage', 'damage', or 'serious damage', with penalty points increasing according to the assigned category. Australia was found to have caused 'serious damage', earning it the highest possible penalty.

While Mitchell acknowledged that the Australian team ‘totally disagrees with the umpires’ point of view’ and argues ‘the event should take more responsibility for the incident,’ he said Rule 57 is ‘black and white’.

“Either you could avoid contact or it was not reasonably possible to avoid contact - there is no middle ground,” he said.

He acknowledged that the ‘mark was not in an ideal position’, but argued ‘it had been there long enough for teams to be aware of it and there had been opportunity for Australia to avoid it while on the leg between Mark 1 and Gate 2’.

Mitchell also pointed to a number of ‘extra systems, support and athletes’ introduced to ‘enhance the racing and safety onboard the F50’.

“Having six sailors onboard now helps to share the workload and introducing live coaching with access to the UmpApp, onboard video, wing screen data and communication to the boats during racing adds to the team who are able to identify future issues,” he said.

Season 4 // Australia regroup after hitting race mark in Christchurch

SailGP’s points penalty system has incrementally increased since it was first introduced in Season 1. Initially, teams were docked 1, 3 and 5 points for contact, damage and serious damage.

Season 4 // Tom Slingsby inspects damage to Australia F50 in Christchurch

After a number of incidents in Season 2, the penalty points were increased to 2,4 and 6, and season point deductions were introduced. Continued incidents in Season 2 led the league to further increase penalties in Season 3 to 4, 8 and 12 points for the same infringements, as well as increased season point penalties.

Mitchell said: “The points penalties are harsh and can have a big impact on a teams’ season, but the league is committed to reducing contact between boats in order to reduce the instances of teams missing regattas due to equipment breakage.”