SailGP represents both the present and future of sailing.
The championship, partnered by Rolex as the exclusive Official Timepiece since the start of Season 1 in 2019, is a leading light in the sport, encouraging innovation and transformation, as well as competition of the highest level. The Mubadala SailGP Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco lived up to the standards of excellence set in previous seasons, delivering a compelling spectacle with tension maintained to the very last leg of the final race. Australia SailGP Team demonstrated its impressive credentials claiming a third successive SailGP title, squeezing over the finish line seconds ahead of New Zealand with the Emirates Great Britain team just behind.
Rolex’s involvement with yachting stretches back 65 years. The unrelenting pursuit of excellence, together with the marriage of human achievement and technical development, as well as the fierce spirit required to succeed at SailGP make Rolex a natural partner. The synergy is based on a mutual desire to perform at the highest level and SailGP is designed to identify the best sailing team. The boats are identical, each crew has equal training time, and the thousands of channels of data generated every tenth of a second by each boat during racing are shared in real time. Which crew wins is down to processing the relevant information with complete accuracy, correctly reading the tactical situation on the water and acting as one. The F50 foiling catamaran is at the cutting edge. It demands not just skill but physical resilience and athleticism.
Arguably the best Grand Final to date, Season 3’s winner-takes-all race was contested by three exceptional crews led by sailors of impeccable quality. Both Australia’s Tom Slingsby and New Zealand’s Peter Burling are Olympic gold medallists, America’s Cup winners and two-time Rolex World Sailors of the Year. Ben Ainslie, the helm of the Great Britain SailGP team and a Rolex Testimonee, is the most successful Olympic sailor of all time with five medals to his name, four of them gold. He is also an America’s Cup winner and a four-time Rolex World Sailor. For him, Team Australia’s victory was well deserved: “The Australians have been the best team all season. They proved it again today and it is phenomenal achievement."
Heading into this event, held over the weekend of 6-7 May, Australia and New Zealand had, barring disaster, already booked their places in the Grand Final. Great Britain was lying in fourth place, one point outside the top three and needing to do something special to leapfrog a talented French team with two event wins to its name. Hannah Mills is strategist with the British team. She too is cut from the finest cloth. The greatest woman Olympic sailor with two golds and a silver, she is a Rolex Testimonee and a two-time Rolex World Sailor of the Year. With a proverbial mountain to climb to make the cut, Mills revealed ahead of racing that the team was as ready as it could be: “The pressure and nerves at times like these are unique to professional sport, but as athletes we live for these moments. We have been going through as many different scenarios as we can, the what ifs, and how we are going to respond to different situations to be as best prepared as we can for any eventuality. In practice we have concentrated on perfecting manoeuvres and communication, getting them dialled in, so we can focus on the racing.”
By the end of the first day, the British crew had secured two second places and a first place from the three races answering any questions about their ability to respond to the pressure. The French team had a more turbulent day struggling to find their form. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand went about their business quietly, in Slingsby’s case exuding real confidence to lead the standings. With two races on the Sunday to determine who would join them in the contest for the grand prize, the French lifted their game to win the first. Ainslie and his crew though were not to be denied doing just enough in the second to keep the resurgent French at bay. In the end, it was Australia’s race and season. Despite the close finish it was yet another masterful performance deserving of victory.
Australia’s seeming dominance is not by chance. Time and again the crew has proven its ability by leading from the front, winning four of the 11 events in the Season 3 championship. Its worst result across the year-long series was a fifth place in Saint-Tropez, and on only one other occasion did Australia fail to finish on the podium. For Slingsby there is little time to enjoy his extraordinary run of success. Season 4 starts in just over a month, and he is fully aware of the threat posed by an ever-pressing fleet: “The fact that we got the job done today is just a huge testament to all the people behind me. Of the three championship wins, this one feels the best, just because of the way we sailed all year. Looking ahead, we really have to look at the dynamic in the team, the atmosphere, the feeling, how we respond to criticism. We have to continue to improve, to find new ways to beat our competitors.”
SailGP Season 4 starts with the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix in Chicago at Navy Pier from 16–17 June 2023.