Australia is dominating a revolutionary competition dubbed ‘F1 on water’, led by an Olympic champ who compares himself to Max Verstappen.
You might not have heard of it yet but Australia is dominating a competition that’s been dubbed “Formula One on water”, and it’s coming back Down Under next year.
It’s called SailGP and Australia has won the first two seasons and is leading the third edition after making an epic comeback to win the podium race at the most recent event in Chicago.
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Led by 2012 Olympic gold medallist Tom Slingsby, Australia is once again the team to beat in the quest to win the A$1.4 million prize, but Slingsby wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I kind of relish it,” Slingsby told news.com.au about constantly being the hunted.
“Everyone talks about the pressure on us to win and things like that but the way I look at it, it means we’re doing things right.
“To be in this position, you have to be doing things really well and to have everyone after you, I kind of enjoy that sort of position. It shows that we’re running our program well, we’ve got a great team, our ability to sail under pressure has been unbelievable so far.
“I really relish that everyone’s watching us and we’ve got the target on our back. I’d prefer it that way than a different way because that means we wouldn’t be on top, if we’re chasing someone else it means we’re down in the pack, so yeah I enjoy this.”
SailGP, which has expanded to 10 teams led by a who’s who of Olympic medallists and America’s Cup champions, is returning to Sydney Harbour in February 2023 as the ninth event in the championship’s calendar.
“We’re so excited to come back to Australia and back to Sydney Harbour,” Slingsby said.
“We’ve done a few events there already and it’s just growing every year. Obviously Sail GP is a new venture, a new league and a lot of people haven’t seen it before. But I think worldwide it’s gaining a lot of momentum.
“In Australia it’s happening slowly, maybe not as quick as these other countries, so it’s great to see that it is growing and the fact that the NSW government and Destination NSW believe in the event and find so much value in the event to lock it in for a three-year deal shows that they really believe what we’re doing.”
The first two seasons of SailGP, as well as season three’s first event in Bermuda, have been captured in a SailGP documentary series available to stream on Kayo Sports.
With strong personalities and big egos in charge of the boats, SailGP has been compared to F1 and Slingsby hopes the documentary will have a similar effect that Netflix’s Drive to Survive had in exposing the sport to a wider audience.
“As a huge F1 fan, I kind of like the comparison that people are saying that,” he said.
“For sure they’ve got a lot bigger budget than us at the moment and they’re doing a great job at it, but slowly and surely I think we’re going to get there. I guess we’re modelling it off that and hopefully we can be successful like that one day.
“But sailing has really come from obscurity to the general sport fan’s eyes and we are now starting to making a real dent. It’s a slow process but it’s definitely happening and I’m very happy to be compared to F1.”
When asked which F1 driver he is most similar to, Slingsby nominated Max Verstappen, due to his fiery temper on the boat and tendency to win races more often than not.
“As much as I’d love to say I’m Daniel Ricciardo, that’s not the truth,” he laughed.
“He’s happy-go-lucky all the time, but when results aren’t going my way I definitely can’t put the smile on my face like he does.
“I guess I’d be compared to Max (Verstappen). It’s a good comparison result-wise. He probably isn’t my favourite F1 driver but he’s extremely intense and passionate and he gets angry in the car.
“I think I’m pretty similar to that. I can lose my cool if things aren’t going well. It’s all about the results for me. I’m really passionate about trying to win races.”
SailGP season three continues when it heads to Plymouth in the UK in late July, and Slingsby is confident the Aussies can keep the ball rolling towards a third straight victory when the season wraps up next year.
“For sure, we’ve got the ability to (win). It’s a long season, we’re two events into an 11-event calendar,” he said.
“We’ve got almost a year to go so there’s plenty of races ahead of us. We’re in good shape, we’re off to a great start.”
SailGP is going from strength to strength and Slingsby is relishing the opportunity to compete against the best sailors in the world on a regular basis.
“We’re up to nine boats now, 10 boats very soon,” he said.
“There’s talk of going to 16 boats. Whether we split the league in two, and 23 events a year.
“It’s really exciting. The league’s just growing so fast and we’re enjoying it more and more.