SailGP: All you need to know about the 2021 season

SailGP is now in its second season, with some of the best sailors in the world, sailing some of the fastest boats, going head-to-head in a global sailing series with a prize of $1m

When Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts launched SailGP back in 2018, the plan was that, by 2021, the series would be heading into its third consecutive season and starting to build some serious momentum. As with the rest of the sporting world, however, COVID-19 has caused some significant disruption.

The first season of SailGP racing showed the potential of the ambitious circuit, with spectacular racing at events like Cowes and Marseilles over the summer of 2019. But the second season barely got off the ground with just a single event completed – at Sydney in January 2020 – before the global pandemic and consequent lockdown forced organisers and teams to hit the pause button.

2021 will now see a proper second season of the racing, with more teams, more venues and an increased gender balance among the sailing teams.

Photo: David Gray for SailGP

What is SailGP?

SailGP came about after the 2017 America’s Cup between Ellison’s Team Oracle USA and Emirates Team New Zealand.

During the Bermuda America’s Cup there had been much discussion about creating an America’s Cup World Series in foiling catamarans, a discussion led by Ellison and supported by most of the Challengers. But when Emirates Team New Zealand delivered their shock win in 2017, they instead announced a return to monohulls for Cup racing (the spectacular AC75s raced in Auckland this year).

Ellison, boss of technology giant Oracle, and Russell Coutts, a five-times America’s Cup winner, decided to launch a brand new multi-stage global circuit in foiling catamarans: Sail GP.

Ellison is understood to have wholly funded the circuit for the first three years. The intention was that, as the circuit grew and gained more television exposure, other commercial backers would come onboard.

The new racing circuit was announced with much fanfare and a $1m prize purse for each season.

The series rules also featured tight nationality rules – at the time tighter than for the America’s Cup itself – albeit with exemptions for countries without a strong history in the sport, to draw emerging sailing nations into the series.

Racing features teams racing under their national flag, in foiling catamarans, with all the action televised using the software created to broadcast the 2013 and 2017 America’s Cups.

Photo: Bob Martin for SailGP

Each SailGP event runs across two days and there are three races on each day, totalling six races at each event.

The opening five fleet races involve every team while the final match race pits the two highest ranking teams against each other to be crowned event champion.

The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.

What boats does SailGP use?

Sail GP is raced in equally matched foiling, wing sailed, 50ft catamarans, known as the SailGP F50, which are based on the AC50 design that was used for the 2017 America’s Cup

Ellison and Coutts, sensing an opportunity to turn the AC50s into a one design class, modified many of the existing boats used by the different Cup teams, built some new hulls and rigs, and created a new, one design class.

Photo: Sam Greenfield for SailGP

Although the boats are equally matched, the intention is to upgrade the whole fleet on a continuous development cycle, so the design can remain at the forefront of the latest foiling developments without creating an expensive arms race for the latest tech.

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New developments include a modular wingsail for the F50, which will allow racing in both lighter and stronger wind ranges.

Who are the teams in SailGP?

In the first season, a 100 per cent nationality rule was applied to teams such as Britain, France and Australia, while Japan was required to have 40 per cent of the crew from their home nation.

For 2021, Japan’s nationality requirement has increased to 60 per cent, whilst for the other teams it is now 80 per cent, allowing a maximum of one international athlete onboard each F50.

Australia SailGP team

The Australian SailGP team won the first season of the series and look set to be one of the favourites going into the second season. They have a tight unit of sailors, and are headed up by Laser Gold Medallist, Moth World Champion and America’s Cup tactician, Tom Slingsby. British Cup sailor Nick Hutton joins the squad.

Sailors: Tom Slingsby, Kyle Langford, Jason Waterhouse, Sam Newton, Kinley Fowler, and Nick Hutton.

Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut for SailGP

Great Britain SailGP team

A British SailGP team did take part in the opening season of SailGP, but the entry has since been taken over by the British America’s Cup team, INEOS Team UK.

The opening event of season two in Sydney was the first time this new team took to the water. Led by the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie, they were impressive in their first event, winning the regatta before COVID-19 stopped the rest of the season. They will arrive match fit, with many of the sailors coming straight from their recent America’s Cup campaign.

Sailors: Ben Ainslie, Chris Draper, Luke Parkinson, Iain Jensen, Matt Gotrel, Richard Mason, Neil Hunter

United States SailGP team

One of the most successful America’s Cup skippers of all time, Jimmy Spithill, comes onboard to head up the US team in their second season of SailGP. Although Australian by birth, Spithill is a dual citizen in Australia and the USA and is fresh from helming Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to the America’s Cup finals.

The US SailGP team did not have the most successful first season so will be hoping some new personnel will help them get to the top of the results table in this second full season of racing.

Sailors: Jimmy Spithill, Rome Kirby, Answer Campbell, Cooper Dressler, Alex Sinclair, Paul Campbell-James, Daniela Moroz, CJ Perez

Denmark SailGP team

The Danish SailGP team is led by multi-time round the world ocean racer Nicolai Sehested. They did not take part in the first season of SailGP but were involved in the single event in Sydney before Covid 19 halted racing.

Sailors: Nicolai Sehested, Rasmus Køstner, Tom Johnson, Martin Kirketerp, Hans-Christian Rosendahl, Lars-Peter Rosendahl, Anne-Marie Rindom, Kayja Salskov-Iversen.

Photo: Craig Greenhill for SailGP

France SailGP team

French multihull specialist Billy Besson leads this team. As a nation France has always had strong multihull sailors and so should be a force to be reckoned with.

By their own standards they were probably a little disappointed with their performance in the opening series of SailGP so will be hoping to put up some stronger results in this second season. INEOS Team UK flight controller Leigh McMillan joins the squad this year.

Sailors: Billy Besson, François Morvan, Leigh McMillan, Matthieu Vandame, Olivier Herlédant, Timothe Lapauw, Amélie Riou, Hélène Noesmoen.

Japan SailGP team

Headed up by Australian 49er Gold Medallist, Moth World Champion and America’s Cup skipper, Nathan Outteridge, the Japanese team has a slightly less strict nationality rule, due to the position as a developing sailing nation.

The team impressed in season one to finish the series in 2nd overall, and were the only team to consistently challenge Slingsby’s Team Australia for wins.

Sailors: Nathan Outteridge, Leo Takahashi, Yuki Kasatani, Tim Morishima, Ayden Menzies, Yugo Yoshida

New Zealand SailGP team

A new team for this second season of SailGP, New Zealand should be tough to beat from the off. They will be skippered by the hottest name in sailing right now, 49er Olympic gold medallist and reigning America’s Cup winner Peter Burling.

Also onboard is Burling’s long time sailing partner, Blair Tuke and a stack of talent from the ENTZ and New Zealand Olympic squads. This team will have high expectations surrounding them from the first day.

Sailors: Peter Burling, Blair Tuke, Andy Maloney, Josh Junior, Liv Mackay, Marcus Hansen, Louis Sinclair, Erica Dawson

Spain SailGP team

The Spanish SailGP team is another who were not involved in the opening season of SailGP, but did take part in the single Sydney regatta last year. They are officially the youngest team competing in the series, but still offer a high level of talent with World Champions and Olympians throughout the boat.

Skipper Phil Robertson is an Australian and has plenty of experience in SailGP having skippered the Chinese entry in the first season.

Sailors: Phil Robertson, Florian Trittel, Joel Rodríguez, Diego Botin, Iago López Marra, Mateu Barber, Jordi Xammar, Luis Bugallo, Joan Cardona

How to watch SailGP

As for the first season of SailGP, the 2021 season will be streamed live on YouTube and will be available in most territories.

For sailors in the UK, in addition to the live YouTube SailGP racing, it will be available on Sky Sports with both live racing and a highlights package.

For those in the USA, in addition to live YouTube SailGP racing, CBS will be offering a mix of live broadcasting and highlights packages.

Photo: Matt Knighton for SailGP

There will also be a delayed full race replay put out on the SailGP Facebook page.

A SailGP app is available as a companion app to the broadcaster coverage. The app provides: live data and video feeds; video and race stats side by side; the option to change viewing angle and zoom in on the action;  switch teams, and select data feeds.

The app will offer delayed coverage and full race replay 48 hours after race completion.

When is SailGP?

Given the complexities of the Covid-19 pandemic the schedule for SailGP 2021 must be viewed as possible to change, but as of the series announcement, there are eight events schedule across the globe.

SailGP Bermuda: 24-25 April 2021
SailGP Italy: Taranto – 5-6 June 2021
SailGP Great Britain: Plymouth – 17-18 July 2021
SailGP Denmark: Aarhus – 20-21 August 2021
SailGP France: Saint-Tropez – 11-12 September
SailGP Spain: Andalucia – 9-10 October
SailGP New Zealand: Christchurch – 29-30 Jan 2022
SailGP USA: San Francisco – 26-27 March 2022

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