Tom Slingsby insists Australia are in SailGP to win it, despite a worrying lack of consistency casting doubts over their Championship credentials.
Champions of SailGP’s inaugural season in 2019, the Aussies have starred and struggled in equal measure this campaign, bookending back-to-back wins in Plymouth and Aarhus with last-place finishes in Taranto and Saint-Tropez.
Their struggles in the south of France saw Slingsby’s team drop from first place down to third, with Great Britain three points behind in the race for the SailGP Grand Final. The top three teams at the end of the season qualify for the winner-takes-all Grand Final, and Slingsby knows that even just one more bad event could cost his team a place in the showpiece race in San Francisco.
“Consistency is not in our dictionary at the moment,” said Slingsby ahead of this weekend’s Spain Sail Grand Prix. “We win an event and them come last in the next one. It’s a bit unlike us, actually, but it is a big problem that we are trying to address.
“Look, we did have some technical issues [in Saint-Tropez], but even with those issues we didn’t adapt well to them and there are things we found in our debrief that, even though parts of our boat weren't working correctly, we could have done better.
“It is a big problem for us, and we need to steady the ship and get some consistency, because if we keep on this sort of trajectory we will probably miss the final three in San Francisco. We need three good events from this point on to make the final three.”
These sorts of comments imply Australia have just one goal this season – retaining the SailGP Championship – and Slingsby willingly admits as much.
“Our expectations are to make the final three,” he continued. “I don’t shy away from those sorts of questions, as we are here to win; we are not here to make up the numbers.
“This the Australian way. We are here to stand on top of the podium, and not number two on the podium. I tell my team all the time that we have one goal here. Obviously we want to represent Australia well and make everyone proud of us, but we can do that the best way by standing on top of the podium.
“We’ve got to do well here, in this final event of the European leg, and then we head to Australia. I feel like Australia and San Francisco, with stronger breezes, we will be pretty comfortable in those events. This is going to be a tricky one for us with trickier breezes, and we found this venue tricky yesterday.”
The Spain Sail Grand Prix marks an historic moment for SailGP as athletes from the Women’s Pathway Program will finally race onboard the F50s. Nina Curtis is Australia’s sixth crew member in Cadiz, and Slingsby is thrilled she will finally be able to improve his team on the water.
“We don’t have a super clear idea of Nina’s role as it’s evolving all the time,” added Slingsby. “We want Nina to be an active part of the team, so yesterday on our first practice day we had her involved in anything from helping me on the start line, talking about boats that I can’t see behind me, and then on the racetrack she was talking relative to the other boats - Are we faster? Are we slower? Are we sailing a nice mode? What can we do better?.
“And then we are actively looking to get her involved, so when we sail with four people she will be on the grinder and on the handles; she had her first go yesterday and she was pretty tired after a little bit, but she did an amazing job.
“We have been huge advocates of getting Nina and the females onboard during racing, and we are really excited for this opportunity for her and for our team. We think she will be a great addition and only strengthen the Australian team.”
Ben Ainslie, the British Driver, and Spain Wing Trimmer Florian Trittel, echoed Slingsby’s sentiments about the WPP.
“I think it is great,” said Trittel. “It is a huge opportunity for us and the Women’s Pathway Program, finally having six crew onboard. It is a new role that we didn’t have before on the F50s, and we have to brainstorm and figure out what the tasks and responsibilities for this sixth role can be, and how to get the most value out of them. We know four eyes sees better than two eyes, and now we have two further eyes onboard, and that is going to help us race faster and better.”
Ainslie, discussing Great Britain’s WPP Athlete Hannah Mills, added: “She is a huge, huge talent. There is a lot of talk about how critical it is in this league and in these short races to spot the wind and be in the right area of the course, and Hannah undoubtedly can help us with that.
“Also with the analysis of the team; how we can make improvements, what the other teams are doing better than us. She is just a great person and great team player, so we are really proud to have her with us.
“It will be interesting to see tomorrow in the lighter airs how we will implement the female athlete on the boat. Hannah is potentially not the most powerful at only 60kg, so her expertise will probably more be in how we operate the boat or where we put it on the racecourse, rather than the grinding for example.
“We will see how it develops, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the different teams implement the female athletes.”