The start and first bend are always the scene-setter in Formula 1, and it was no different in the Sydney SailGP event.
SailGP aspires to be the Formula 1 of competitive sailing and on Friday, the first day of the 2021 Sydney Grand Prix, it looked to be well on the way with a start line collision taking out two leading competitors.
In scenes reminiscent of the Hamilton – Verstappen F1 crash at the Italian GP . . . Ben Ainslie, driving the Great Britain team F50, took-out the Japan team boat, driven by Nathan Outerridge, as they manoeuvred for the start line sprint, snapping off the righthand bow section.
While collisions and bumping incidents are a regular feature of the Formula 1 race circuit, particularly between the leading drivers. The racing rules of sailing ( and SailGP rules) attempt to minimise all contact and provide strict right of way rules in such potential situations.
The recent incident in Sydney took both boats out of the race, and had crucial consequences for the overall SailGP Championship.
The collision removed Ainslie from a chance of Grand Final participation in San Francisco, and Outerridge battling to claim the third and final spot.
Ainslie immediately admitted responsibility and offered his own boat to ensure Japan could compete on day 2 . . . Not that he had much choice!
While Ainslie described the collision as a “mistake”, the Chief Umpire handed Great Britain a six-point penalty, for causing serious damage, and two penalty points were deducted from the British team’s overall championship points.
They were also banned from any further participation in the Sydney event.
He determined that Japan driven by Nathan Outerridge, was not at fault and would not incur any penalty points.
Under SailGP rules the Event Authority can also substitute or allocate like for like equipment to the blameless team.
Thus, after a technical inspection the British boat was passed to the Japan team, and they spent Friday night working to incorporate their own wing and foils on the British hull.
But despite all the hard work by the Japan team, and an outstanding performance by Outteridge in the hybrid boat, winning both fleet races on Saturday, they missed the Sydney Final race by one point – top three teams only.
The Sydney event went to Tom Slingsby’s Australia team and puts them in pole position going into the final SailGP Championship event in San Francisco on 26 and 27 March, 2022.
Australia have now opened up a two point championship lead over Jimmy Spithill’s United States team, with Japan four points adrift of the top spot in third and battling with Spain for the final spot in the winner-takes-all Grand Final.
The final race at the last event of the season is the Grand Final – this is a race in which the highest ranked teams in the overall season leader board go head-to-head to win the US$1 million prize and be crowned SailGP 2021/22 Champions.
2021/22 SailGP Season Championship (after 7 of 8 events)
1st Australia – – 55 points
2nd United States – – 53 points
3rd Japan – – 51 points
4th Spain – – 43 points
5th New Zealand – – 42 points
6th Great Britain- – 41 points
7th Denmark – – 38 points
8th France – – 35 points