The supercharged F50 catamarans are one-design racing machines, meaning they are all identical, and putting the emphasis on the skills of the teams who sail them. The teams are anything but one-design, and their various personalities, training regimes, and unique backgrounds mean they are fierce competitors and rivals.
Australia SailGP Team
The Aussie team owe their success to their long-standing friendship; their group has been sailing together since childhood. The team made their mark on the first few events of the inaugural season, winning both its home event in Sydney and coming from behind in San Francisco to beat out the Japan team.
The Australia team has a practical approach, its helmsman Tom Slingsby is known for his calm and collected demeanor onboard. His inability to get flustered during racing has already paid off in the tougher moments of the season and seen the team win two of the three final match races they have competed in.
“We are all good mates; we’ve sailed together so long. I’ve grown up sailing with a lot of these guys and known a few of them since I was ten years old,” said helmsman Tom Slingsby. “After 25 years together to still be racing and having fun is great. We know each other so well and that’s so important on these boats in particular.”
China SailGP Team
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Chinese team so far this season, and by helmsman Phil Robertson’s own admission, there have been many instances of going from “hero to zero”.
After a tough break at the second event of the season in San Francisco, which saw the Chinese team have a spectacular nose dive which damaged the 24 meter wing sail, the team has been focusing on getting back on the water to build confidence.
The team is made up of a mixture of international sailing talent combined with young Chinese stars and while experienced in its own right, the team has had the least combined amount of time sailing foiling catamarans.
In New York the team were quick out of the gates and showed good boat speed but couldn't quite hold it to the end of the racing, something the team will be working on for the next event in Cowes.
Helmsman Phil Robertson isn’t giving away any secrets; he did mention that they’ve changed up some of the ways they are sailing the boat and been putting some time in at the high tech simulator in London. “These are without a doubt the most difficult boats to sail but I love the challenge of getting all five crew coordinated to make these machines perform to their full potential. When it all comes together on the day it’s amazing, but equally we know what can happen when it doesn’t, so this is something we are working hard on to improve,” said Robertson.
France SailGP Team
When Frenchman Billy Besson was initially asked to put together the France SailGP Team, he thought it was a hoax. Once the initial shock subsided, he quickly started to pull together some of the best sailing talent in France. “The French Spirit” is what Besson says when asked what sets the team apart from the others, and it’s true. The team is on a steep learning curve but hungry to move up the rankings, especially with the final event of the season taking place at home, it will want to finish the season on a high.
The French team is the only team with a female sailor onboard. Besson brought long-time sailing partner Marie Riou into the team as flight controller, hoping the communication they have in the Olympic class Nacra17 is a useful asset on the F50. Riou is a decorated Nacra17 and F18 racer with an impressive resume in catamaran racing as well as recently making sporting history by becoming the first woman to win the round the world Ocean Race.
“I think we have a great team and a good mix of personalities and expertise. Everyone has a specific role and brings something different to the team and we are just really enjoying the racing,” said Besson.
Great Britain SailGP Team
Dylan Fletcher, helmsman of the British team, prides himself on his team’s adaptability.
In San Francisco the Brits were the most improved team and set a marker for what to expect from the remaining events. However disappointment in New York, which saw the first capsize of SailGP, put them on a back foot heading into their home event in Cowes. The team have been training hard in both the simulator and on the water, and while the British approach is a humble and objective one, they are hungry for race wins- especially in front of a home crowd.
Fletcher’s partnership with flight controller Stu Bithell is an important one, that sees them spending most days together, either during their Olympic 49er campaign or with the Great Britain SailGP Team.
“We have no egos, we aren’t arrogant, we’re here to do a job, and at times we will get beaten, and at times we will do well,” said Fletcher. “It's all about learning as quickly as we can, and the results will take care of themselves. It will be up and down, like everyone else, but at the end of the year, all the learning means we give ourselves a chance.”
Japan SailGP Team
The Japan SailGP Team was cited as the team to beat from the start of season 1. With Olympic and foiling legend Nathan Outteridge at the helm, big things were expected but the first two events didn’t go the team’s way, making both of the match race finals but ultimately losing out to Australia’s Tom Slingsby.
Seeking redemption, the Japanese finally managed to dethrone the Aussies from the top spot in New York with no plans to concede or slow down.
The team combines young Japanese talent with an established afterguard and this balance of skill and talent is paying off.
“The young guys at the front are often speaking Japanese as we are going around the racetrack and I bet they are chuckling at what we are doing wrong,” said flight controller Luke Parkinson. “We can only understand little snippets. All joking aside, it’s special to have a blend of two cultures coming together and seems to be working well for us.”
United States SailGP Team
The U.S. team is the youngest combined team in SailGP, but it doesn’t mean they lack experience. In fact among them they have multiple world champions, America’s Cup winners and around the world sailors.
The learning curve is steep but proving fruitful when the team finally got to celebrate a race win at home in New York in front of a cheering crowd waving its national flag. A feat Rome Kirby and crew are keen to repeat.
The team is serious about success, working hard with coach Tom Burnham to accelerate its learning curve and keep working towards a podium finish at the end of the season. While it’s game face on the water, the sailors on the ‘Lady Liberty’ F50 keep things lighthearted, talking smack and bantering back and forth off the water.
“Going to the simulator and spending time between events has kept our group together and this is an important factor,” said Rome Kirby. “We never go more than a few weeks without seeing each other and are always in contact joking, sending videos, whatever. This keeps the group communication going, which I think helps us on the water as well.”