Stepping into Ben Ainslie’s shoes driving a flying boat that reaches speeds of over 90KPH, even if only temporarily, is by no means an easy challenge. There are not many sailors in the world with the experience, know-how and attitude that could fulfil that task with no more than a week’s worth of practice.
Fortunately for the Great Britain SailGP Team, the team’s new interim Driver for the Italy and Great Britain Sail Grand Prix races, Paul Goodison, is up for the challenge.
Paul certainly brings the right experience to the table. Whilst he has never driven a F50 in competition, he has had a hugely successful career to date, including an Olympic Gold medal in 2008 and being crowned World Champion in the foiling Moth class three times (2016, 2017 & 2018). That experience will be his first port-of-call as the team begins training this week for the upcoming Italy Sail Grand Prix in Taranto.
“My foiling experience will be particularly important”, Paul explained. “Whilst I haven’t helmed the F50 before, these boats all behave in very similar manners. They go extremely fast, and you have to make decisions extremely quickly. If you don’t, you get punished very hard for your mistakes. Hopefully the experience I have had through the other classes will play into my hands a little bit.”
Whilst Paul may have the experience, he is under no illusions of the challenge he is facing, particularly this week in Italy. This weekend, in the Italy Sail Grand Prix, he will be racing up against some of the very best sailors in the world with only a few days practice ever driving the F50 boat. For Paul, it was simply an opportunity too good to miss.
“There are high expectations. These guys are used to winning and I have to be realistic that we are going to get very little sailing time together. It won’t be easy, but if we get it right and start clicking as a team then we will have the chance do well.
“The pressure itself is a good thing. For me, it’s always more about the pressure I put on myself to perform. The higher the calibre of fleet I am in, the more pressure I put on myself. Throughout my career I have been able to deal with that pressure well and these are the types of high-pressure environments I want to sail in.”
The most important thing for Paul and the team building up to the weekend’s racing has been maximising the time on the water and quickly gelling as a team aboard the F50. That is where the Head Coach Rob Wilson has played a crucial role in embedding Paul into the wider team, whilst giving him the feedback he needs to very quickly improve on a daily basis.
“There’s a lot of planning that’s been going on into how we make the most of every minute out on the water”, Paul added. “We have a great coach in Rob and a great group of support staff and together we will ensure we spend this time really efficiently and crucially debrief well as well. We will need to spend the time to analyse the data, look at how we are performing and what we can do better to improve every single day. Our mantra this week will be to be better the next day than we were the previous day”.
Whether or not the Great Britain SailGP Team is able to successfully compete for the Grand Prix title this weekend may well depend on how quickly Paul is able to pick up the ropes in the limited training time he has with the team this week. Paul, who lives in Italy with his Italian wife and their son, is simply raring to get going.
“I’m very excited, I have the chance to sail with an incredible team against the best sailors in the world and I can’t wait.
Paul Goodison is Interim Driver for the Great Britain SailGP Team for the Italy Sail Grand Prix and Great Britain Sail Grand Prix events on 5/6 June and 17/18 July respectively. Both events are available to watch in the UK on Sky Sports and free on SailGP’s YouTube channel.