High performance in sport is, as in the stock market, the art of making a decision in a tenth of a second and executing it in a hundredth. In individual sports, athletes only need analytical skills, ready muscles and a good neuromuscular connection. When playing as a team, sometimes it is enough to execute joint plays a thousand times repeated in tedious training sessions. In a SailGP F50, 17-meter catamarans and a 27-meter wing that fly at 90 meters per hour, and not on tartan that bounces smooth or on grass neat with manicure scissors, but in rough or calm waters, thin spider-like legs, the foils, with wind from one side to the other, and nine ships around, the five or six crew members must synchronize their movements with the conditions of the sea, the wind, the waves, the tides, and with the actions of their companions, like pieces of a millionaire's watch. They always need something more, as if they were six cracks, six Fortunes, from League of Legends pressing hundreds of keys per second in front of the video game screen, and not detune any of them, and at the same time spinning a grinder, jumping from side to side of the catamaran over nets, and the water hitting their faces.
And this is not only to win, but even to avoid tipping over. He who hesitates goes for a swim. The art of deciding the right move at the right time is vital to piloting an F50 catamaran in SailGP. Attacks. Attacks. Attacks.
Florian Trittel.Adam Warner for SailGP (Adam Warner for SailGP)
"There is no room for doubt. Either you fly or you sink," sums up Florian Trittel, wing trimmer of the Spanish F50, which this weekend, in the Dubai of COP28, will compete in the sixth race of the season. "We spend the day at sea or analyzing what we do at sea."
It's SailGP, something like the Formula 1 of the sea. 10 countries, 10 boats, some of the greatest sailors in history and 13 races. Among them, a Spanish boat, with a pilot, Diego Botín, and a second on board, Trittel, who have not yet turned 30 and are already fighting keel to keel with the best, with the sacred cows. The crew is completed by strategist and grinder Nicole van der Velden, tactician and grinder Joan Cardona and flight controller Joel Rodríguez. On the eve of the season's season, the unbeatable Australia leads with 43 points – the Flying Roos, flying kangaroos, have won in the three seasons played – of the legendary Tom Slingsby. The Spanish F50 Roosters are fourth, tied at 32 in third, the United States, whose owner and driver until 10 days ago, the god of the America's Cup, Jimmy Spithill, has just sold to a consortium of celebrities and technologists who have chosen Taylor Canfield as driver. Interestingly, in Dubai, Spithill will drive the Australian F50 in place of his friend Slingsby, who will stay in Australia because his wife is already expecting their first child.
After each event, and sometimes more, the Spanish crew holds video conferences, each one is in a different part of the world, what they call "psychological work" meetings. "We have a performance coach, the New Zealander Hamish Willcox, who also works in Copa America and has a lot of experience of Olympic campaigns with Blair Tuke and Peter Burling, and he tells us that what we have in our team is something very special, it is something unique, that it does not exist like that in other teams and that is probably our point in favor and our strongest point. Willcox, who is not a psychologist, is able to connect with each situation and with each personality and really has a very important function in that sense," explains Trittel after the competition held in Cádiz, at the end of October. "He's the one who guides the team and, well, we always analyse and think about what's relevant, at what time. And with him, and with our other coach, the Italian Simone Salvà, we have calls to comment specifically on situations like those of the last race held, when we made a mistake when we put the keel on Canada, for which we were penalized. We have to find a margin to get it right when deciding when to do it and when not to."
Trittel explains that it all starts with each of the five crew members knowing what they are comfortable with on an individual level. "Talking about Diego, Joan, me, the question that arises there is: 'who has all that information in their head during the race?' We distribute it, and why, because in this case, what information do we think Diego should have and what information do Diego and Joan want to have?"
They are not alone. From the shore, Willcox, like the coaches of the other nine boats, manages thousands of navigation data and telemetry on his computer, and has a perfect view of the race course, to transmit at all times by radio the information necessary to make decisions. It's a novelty, dictated both by the improvement of their vision and by the desire to reduce the carbon footprint, as coaches used to run from zodiac boats. "Luckily, the coach is able to help more and more, giving us communications from the ground and he's in a much calmer position," says Trittel. "We're talking a lot about how to find a better balance to know when to attack in situations that are always going to happen. We have a lot of room for improvement on a technical level in terms of manoeuvring the boat better to have more confidence to push in certain situations from boat to boat."
Florian Trittel and Diego Botín, during a competition. Ricardo Pinto for SailGP (Ricardo Pinto for SailGP)
In the months between SailGP events, 13 weekends a year, sailors are not allowed to train in the F50s. Roosters do it in moths, small individual boats, with foils, too. "It has nothing to do with how to sail with six, but it's the closest thing in terms of concepts, because it flies and we speak the same language and we train against each other," explains Trittel, who also competes with Diego Botín in 49er, a category in which they are European champions and in which they will compete at the Paris 24 Olympic Games. in the port of Marseille. The 49er is only five meters long, it doesn't soar on foils, but it's capable of gliding without being affected by water resistance, unless you slow it down. The sails then go from motive power to tipping force. In all the maneuvers of a 49er, speed is a friend. And communication is key. Not just by radio. "Diego and I already connect at a level of energy that is worth more than verbal communication," says Trittel. "And in the F50, we programmed communications for every race situation. We put a lot of thought into what to say and when. We need a clear channel. Things have to go in a set order so that there aren't two people talking at the same time."
Thus armed, cohesive, they will seek to repeat the victory obtained in Los Angeles over the weekend. "Luckily we know Dubai already and we know that we will probably have light to medium winds with very little wave. Last year we also won a race there," says Trittel. "When we watched the grand final in San Francisco last year from the side of the field, because we hadn't qualified, we were all the way behind in the standings, we saw the three finalist teams and dreamed of one day being there. Maybe this season won't be either, but maybe that dream isn't that far away."
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