‘Toughest decision’: Ben Ainslie steps down as driver of Great Britain’s SailGP team

Ben Ainslie, driver of Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team, celebrates after Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team win the ROCKWOOL Italy Sail Grand Prix in Taranto, Italy. 24th September 2023. Photo: Bob Martin for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP Ben Ainslie, driver of Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team, celebrates after Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team win the ROCKWOOL Italy Sail Grand Prix in Taranto, Italy. 24th September 2023. Photo: Bob Martin for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP

British sailor Sir Ben Ainslie is stepping down as driver of the Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team to focus his attention on the America’s Cup.

Ainslie — the most successful sailor in Olympic sailing history — will continue his role as CEO and majority owner of Emirates GBR. He will be replaced by double Olympic Gold medallist and America’s Cup teammate Giles Scott MBE.

Ainslie and Scott will continue as co-helmsmen in the Ineos Britannia America’s Cup team.

The move comes after Luna Rossa co-skipper and double America’s Cup champion, Jimmy Spithill, stepped down as skipper from the USA SailGP team in November 2023.

Speaking after his final SailGP event as driver in Dubai, Ben Ainslie said it was “time for the next generation to come through”.

Great Britain SailGP Team in action onboard their newly branded F50 catamaran along with Great Britain Inspire Racing x WASPZ sailor Hattie Rogers sitting behind Ben Ainslie during a practice session ahead of San Francisco SailGP, Season 2 in San Francisco, USA. 23rd March 2022. Photo: Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP
Great Britain SailGP Team in action onboard its F50 catamaran in 2022. Photo courtesy of Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP.

On the decision to step away from his role as Emirates GBR driver, Ainslie says: “It’s probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my sporting career. Like any big decision, there’s plenty that goes into it and a lot of factors at play.

“As the CEO of both Emirates GBR and the Ineos Britannia America’s Cup Team, and most importantly, a husband and father, at some point, you’ve got to realise that you can’t do everything.

“I’m coming to that point where it’s time to let the next generation come through and have their opportunity. We’ve got a huge talent in Giles Scott, he’s one of the best in the sport, and he will suit this style of racing perfectly. He’s an incredible sailor, one of the best I’ve ever raced with, but he’s also a very mature, level-headed person and that’s why I think he will do a fantastic job in SailGP.”

Ainslie and Scott have a long history, initially competing against each other to represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Ainslie was successful in selection and went on to secure his fourth Gold medal before retiring from Olympic sailing. The torch was then passed to Scott, who competed at the Rio 2016 Games, winning Gold in the Finn class, before achieving the double at Tokyo 2020.

Scott says taking on the role of driver for Emirates GBR from Ainslie was “a big moment”.

“SailGP is an amazing League; there’s nothing else like it, and for Ben to give me the call-up is amazing,” he says.

“I’ve got some catching up to do, but the Emirates GBR Team is a great squad; everybody involved is hugely experienced and top-quality sailors. I’ve got to step up to the mark and do the best job I can to fill those big old boots that Ben’s left behind.”

Scott joins the Emirates GBR SailGP Team as driver, alongside Hannah Mills as strategist, Iain Jensen as wing trimmer, Luke Parkinson as flight controller, Matt Gotrel, Neil Hunter and Nick Hutton as grinders and Hannah Diamond as reserve sailor.

In his role as Emirates GBR CEO, Ainslie will manage the overall performance of the team both on and off the water. Mills will continue her development behind the wheel of the F50, helping towards her goal of becoming the first female driver of a SailGP team.

This development continues next week in Abu Dhabi, where Emirates GBR has organised a Women’s Pathway training day on its F50. Mills will helm the session which will be attended by female athletes from other SailGP teams to enable them to gain experience and develop in different crew roles.

“Hannah is an incredible talent and it’s been really impressive to see how she’s got to grips with these boats,” says Ainslie. “We fully support her in her goal to become the first female driver in SailGP and will continue to provide her more training time on the water, starting in Abu Dhabi, and I don’t think it will be long until we see her racing an F50.”

Hannah-Mills-Olympic-Gold-Tokyo-2048x1366

Ainslie first took on the role as driver for Emirates GBR ahead of Season 2 in 2019. He went on to win the Sydney SailGP later that season and in October 2021, took majority ownership of the Great Britain team in a first for the league.

SailGP is currently halfway through Season 4 and Emirates GBR secured two back-to-back wins in the European leg. The most recent Sail Grand Prix, last December in Dubai, saw Emirates GBR miss out on the podium final after a disqualification call by the umpires. The next event takes place in Abu Dhabi on 13-14 January 2024, and will be Scott’s first in the driving seat.

In November 2023, SailGP cancelled its upcoming event in Auckland, which was due to take place in March 2024, due to issues with the land required for a spectator facility, which is understood to be leased by Emirates Team New Zealand.

Ben-Ainslie-SailGP

In December, SailGP confirmed the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix will instead return to Christchurch on the same dates, and will be staged on Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour.

On his time in SailGP, Ainslie adds: “I’ve loved every minute of sailing in the League. We’ve had some great moments and some challenging moments, but I’ve just loved it. It’s the best sailing I’ve ever done in my career, it’s so much fun. We’ve got a great team at Emirates GBR that has a really exciting future and I’m still going to be part of it for many years to come.”

Main image courtesy of Bob Martin for SailGP.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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