Saint-Tropez, France — Jimmy Spithill is the youngest America’s Cup skipper, but the Australian-born Team USA driver believes up until now sailing has been like “watching paint dry”.
Yet, Spithill says the emergence of Sail GP is doing wonders and is making sailing a spectacle that will power the water sport into the future.
His comments come as the two-time America’s Cup winner was joined by Formula One champion Max Verstappen and his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez in St Tropez ahead of this weekend’s fifth Sail GP event of season three.
The Red Bull duo joined Spithill on the water as Team USA challenged Tom Slingsby’s Team Australia on the water in two races and a third drag race on the Gulf of St Tropez.
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Verstappen, who took another giant step forward in his bid to go back to back in this year’s F1 drivers’ championship by taking out his home Dutch GP last weekend, said there was a lot of “alignment” between Sail GP and F1.
While F1 is not always considered a fair race, with cars not of an equal footing and manufacturing methods closely guarded, the same Oracle data program used in Sail GP is an open book.
All F50 foiling catamarans are the same, while every nation competing can analyse each other’s performance live and listen in to communication on board.
For Spithill’s Red Bull USA Team, it’s a valuable source to tap into, particularly after Team Australia has dominated the opening two-and-a-half seasons.
“That’s what these guys (Verstappen and Perez) are kind of really surprised about,” Spithill said. “You can see everyone’s data.
“I’m sure at times they’d love to see the set-up of their competitors but probably right now they definitely don’t want to let anyone see their stuff.”
Verstappen admitted he would like F1 “more equal” but added that because of the secrecy more manufacturing companies were in business as a result.
“To be honest we grew up like that. I never knew anything else,” Verstappen said, speaking from St Tropez.
“When I was go-karting, it was exactly like that. You will not show your competitors what you were doing.
“Throughout the single seater category, it is the same, you will not get information from another team – and that’s the sport.
“Of course, in Formula One sometimes you would like it to be more equal but then on the other end, you won’t attract different kinds of manufacturers as well because they want to show the technology and they want to show that they’re the best, right?
“So I can understand that. It will never be equal because you have so many different brands to deal with.
“But it’s also really interesting and refreshing to see that in some sports, it is open to everyone and then it really comes down to the guys working together and just getting the best out of it to try and beat the others.”
Spithill is at the forefront of the third year competition, which is bringing together the best sailors in the world on the globe’s fastest sailing boats, which are capable of getting up to 100 kp/h.
The American-based sailor says Sail GP has reinvigorated the sport.
“Foiling really is the future,” Spithill said.
“It allows us to make this an entertainment product on TV now. In the past sailing never had that.
“Yeah, you can attract maybe some sailing interested fans. But for most people, it’s like watching paint dry. It was just boring.
“Now, it’s fast, things happen quickly, and it’s really cool to be a part of.”
One of Spithill’s bugbears with sailing, particularly the America’s Cup, was that the sport became dormant every other year.
But the 43-year-old believes Sail GP can usher through a new audience, while providing gripping, constant competition on the water that stays true to the principles of sailing while also providing more opportunities for sailors to earn a living.
“Without a doubt, without a doubt (this is the best thing to happen to the sport),” Spithill said.
“And not only that, there’ll be real sports franchises and real value. We’ve seen teams sold now. That’s never really happened in sailing.
“It’s been one of the frustrating things with the America’s Cup. Clearly I love the America’s Cup, I’ve been doing it for 20 years, but one of the biggest frustrations is you see teams come in, they’ll go through a few campaigns, they’ll build up this recognition of a brand, like a team name, like Australia II back in the day, and then suddenly it’s gone.
“It’s worth nothing.
“I raced in the last America’s Cup final for Italy and for a year after, my friends and sponsors said ‘when’s the next America’s Cup? Where is it?’ I had no idea.
“Imagine at the end of their F1 season you didn’t know where the next one was going to be?
“So it’s just hard because you’re stuck with this old set of rules.
“But now, with SailGP, multiple seasons planned, broadcast deals way into the future, it’s just so exciting.”