Sir Ben Ainslie has announced he is stepping down as driver of the Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team. Ainslie will continue his role as CEO of Emirates GBR but will hand over the wheel to double Olympic Gold medallist and America’s Cup teammate Giles Scott MBE. Speaking after his final SailGP Event as driver in Dubai, Ainslie said it was “time for the next generation to come through”.
On the decision to step away from his role as Emirates GBR driver, Ainslie said: “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. Scott pushed hard and it was an extremely close competition, but 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 said 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 said.
“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 OBE as Strategist, Iain Jensen as Wing Trimmer, Luke Parkinson as Flight Controller, Matt Gotrel MBE, 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. Strategist Hannah Mills OBE 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.
Ainslie said: “Hannah is an incredible talent and it’s been really impressive to see how she’s got to grips with these boats. 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.”
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, and will be Scott’s first in the driving seat.
Ainslie has always been passionate about supporting the next generation in sailing and beyond. In 2022, Ainslie and Mills set up the Athena Pathway Programme (APP) which aims to fast-track development for youth and female sailors, level the playing field and bring diversity into the sport at its highest level, both on and off the water.
On his time in SailGP, Ainslie said: “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.”