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Ben Ainslie takes flight on the F50 for the first time

It was a chance to hone his skills for newly appointed Great Britain SailGP Team helmsman Ben Ainslie when he stepped onto the high-tech simulated replica of the SailGP F50 for the first time. Although Ainslie has plenty of history with wingsailed 50-foot catamarans, the F50 has changed drastically compared to the previous class he sailed.

Commenting on the benefits of training days on the simulator, Ainslie said: “Simulation in high performance yacht racing has become a huge part of the performance game. It has therefore been crucial to get time on the SailGP sim. We needed to sharpen our skills on the F50, so to be able to do that in a safe, dry environment where you can then review it, look at techniques, look at performances and then go and put it into practice for real out on the water is fantastic.”

As a one-design development class, the F50 is constantly evolving. With more sailing time comes more data from the 1,200 data points across the athletes and boats. This data is used by the SailGP design team to continually fine-tune the controls and systems, as was seen during Season 1 when the new flight control system was introduced in San Francisco. Simulator training days are key for the athletes to get up to speed with these changes and accelerate their learning.

The team’s coach Rob Wilson said: “The simulator is a big positive for the athletes to get used to the technology on the F50 – the equipment on the simulator is exactly the same as the real boats. From a coaching perspective, you’ve got all the data you could dream of. You’re sat at a desk looking at screens, not getting wet, so it’s a really good analytical tool and a crucial part of our training.”

At the time of simulator training, a revolutionary new modular wingsail is undergoing tests in New Zealand – ready to be rolled out across the now seven-strong fleet throughout Season 2. The new, modular wing can be assembled in varying lengths – 18m, 24m and 29m – allowing the teams to put on nail-biting nation versus nation racing in a greater range of conditions across the iconic venues.

With a new wing also comes new speeds. Season 1 saw the Brits become the first SailGP team to break the elusive 50-knot speed barrier, but what can be expected for Season 2?

Predicting the effect of the new wingsail, Ainslie said: “Everyone is excited about the new modular wing. Of course, from a racing perspective, to be able to sail in a wider range of conditions is of real benefit to both the league and for us as race teams. Certainly in strong winds we’d expect the speeds to be quite significantly higher, but quite how high, who knows.”
With the Great Britain SailGP Team presented by INEOS taking on a new look for Season 2, opening in Sydney in February, it will be the first time Ainslie and the full team get to sail the F50 on the water. The team will be starting the season somewhat on the backfoot compared to Australia, France, Japan and the United States who all got to grips with the supercharged 50-foot catamarans during the inaugural season in 2019.

So how does Ainslie plan on getting up to speed with the likes of Australia’s Tom Slingsby, an old teammate of Ainslie’s, and winner of SailGP Season 1?
Coach Wilson said: “The fact we have sight of everyone’s data really helps the new teams fast track their learning. If you came into a championship like this with a highly technical boat, and you couldn’t see what the other boat set ups were - and with the limited training time you get – it would take a lot of time to get up to speed. With the shared data between all the teams, it does help to level the playing field and make the racing a lot closer.”
The British team are not the only ‘new kids on the block’ as a seventh SailGP team has just been announced as joining the championship for Season 2 – Denmark – managed by Ainslie’s old rival in the Finn class Jonas Høgh-Christensen.

“It’s great to hear the announcement of the Danish team entering SailGP,” said Ainslie. “I’ve got a good relationship with Jonas and he’s a top competitor. Nicolai Sehested and the rest of the team onboard are fantastic sailors and they’re going to be very strong as newbies like ourselves to this global league. I think we’re going to have some fantastic competition.”
Spain will also be joining the league in Season 2, replacing China, with further details to be announced in late January.
SailGP Season 2 kicks off in Sydney on the 28th and 29th February 2020 – tickets are on sale now at SailGP.com/Sydney.

The full Great Britain SailGP Team presented by INEOS will be announced in the new year.