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The Drivers' Debrief: New Zealand reflects on ‘disappointing’ weekend while Delapierre regrets Black Flag incident

17 MAY 2022Feature
by Miranda Blazeby, Digital Editor

The drivers of SailGP’s nine-strong F50 fleet have reflected on their performances in the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix, which kicked off the league’s third season on May 14-15.

The event, which comprised five fleet races and a Grand Final, saw defending champions Australia sweep to victory while Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain came second and newcomer Canada picked up third place.

Looking back on the final, British Driver Ainslie said the team ‘made a mess of the start’.

“We had an issue with our final manoeuvre coming back onto the line which meant we were late,” he said. “It was always going to be tough from there but we did a good job to overcome Canada.”

While Great Britain managed to ‘close in on the Aussies’, the team was unable to ‘match them’, Ainslie said. “I didn’t like losing but we use that as motivation and learn from it and it was important we took home the second place.”

Australia put in discreetly consistent performances across the weekend before winning the fifth fleet race and bagging a place in the final.

“As a team we thrive on confidence and when we are confident we are very hard to beat,” said Tom Slingsby. “Winning that last fleet race before the final race put us in high confidence - we all looked at each other and said ‘we are going to smoke this,’ and that’s what happened.”

As for newcomers Canada, Driver Phil Robertson said the team’s third place podium finish was ‘an incredible start for a new team’.

“To finish on the podium for event one is something that we never dreamed of but knew we were capable of,” he said. Looking ahead to the United States Sail Grand Prix next month, Robertson said the team have ‘a lot more to learn in the breezier conditions’. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we are stoked with how we came out.”

It was a mixed weekend for the USA, which finished in fifth place overall. Driver Jimmy Spithill admitted this position ‘isn’t ideal’ but said there were ‘signs of encouragement for the team.”

USA tactician Andrew Campbell meanwhile said the Americans are ‘certainly better off’ than they were after the Season 2 opener in Bermuda last year, in which the team crashed and capsized.

Many were expecting the start of Season 3 to signal a renaissance for New Zealand, but Peter Burling’s team ended the weekend with a 7-3-8-1-7 racing record, missing out on a place in the Final.

Co-CEO of the team, Blair Tuke, admitted it was a ‘pretty disappointing weekend’ despite the team entering Season 3 with ‘quite a lot of confidence’. “We’d been sailing the boat really well, which I guess now makes it even harder,” he said.

The team particularly struggled with race starts which, Tuke said, were ‘some of our worst that we’ve had in SailGP’, adding that it is ‘a real area for us to work on’.

While there had been ‘encouraging signs’ for the season ahead, ‘it was not good enough from us this weekend,’ Tuke said.

It follows criticism from SailGP CEO Russell Coutts, who described the ‘underperformance’ of the Kiwi team in Season 2 as ‘staggering’.

It was also a rough weekend for Quentin Delapierre’s France, who had bounced back from a ninth place finish in the first race to pick up two second place finishes in fleet races 2 and 3.

However, a fatal error made on the start line of the fourth race saw France handed the second Black Flag in SailGP history. Coming into a crowded line up at speed, the French boat attempted to barge the British boat aside, forcing Great Britain to swerve and avoid a collision.

Speaking about the incident, Driver Delapierre said he was ‘disappointed’ with the first event of the season. “It’s my first Black Flag. I continue to learn. Now we are looking ahead in Chicago and we will be on the job to do better.” He added, “it bothers me to have made such a mistake in the first race.”

Jordi Xammar was another Driver looking ahead to Chicago after the Spanish team finished 6-4-9-2-9 across the weekend. “The only focus of the team until the next test will be how to improve performance, analysing all the details,” he said.

Paula Barceló, who made SailGP history in the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix as the first woman to take on the grinder position, added: “We are a little disappointed with our results but I think it’s just lack of experience.”

Denmark had a slow start to the weekend, picking up 5-9-4 placing across the first three races before making a comeback in the second day of racing with two third place finishes.

“It was a good recovery after a tough first day,” Driver Nicolai Sehested. “It just shows that you can come out and have a really bad day then change a few details and it changes the game.”

He added that the Danish team are the ‘underdogs’ of SailGP. “We’re not the rockstars but we do it together and keep in on working on it until we get it right.”

Finally, Switzerland, which had their racing debut alongside Canada, struggled to keep up with the rest of the pack, picking up an 8-6-6-8-6 racing record across the weekend, leaving them in ninth place overall. Despite this, Driver Sébastien Schneiter said the weekend had been an important educational experience for the fledgling team.

“I think we showed some good moments and some good signs for the future,” he said. “We also have a much better understanding now; what the racing is about and what we can focus on, that can make a big difference. We saw in the racing over the weekend that it is the little details that make a big difference.”

The nine teams will next meet for the United States Sail Grand Prix at Navy Pier, which will take place on June 18-19.


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