Michel Lewis’ 2003 book and subsequent hit film Moneyball tells the story of how the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team used smartly analysed performance data to become competitive against much larger teams in the league with close to triple Oakland’s budget.
The premise of the book – subtitled The Art of Winning an Unfair Game – could equally be applied to the high-performance SailGP circuit where ten top international sailing teams race ultra-fast, technologically super-advanced F50 foiling catamarans at speeds approaching 100 kilometres per hour powered only by one of nature’s most unpredictable elements – the wind.
In the same way that the Oakland Athletics disrupted the sport of baseball status quo by revolutionising the way player performance data was analysed, SailGP’s has changed professional sailing forever by putting shared, live data at the core of its operations.
Data is in the DNA of SailGP
Data has been at the very heart of the SailGP international circuit since its inception in 2018 with its partnership with Oracle providing access to high speed data links into the Oracle Cloud computing infrastructure.
Harnessing the enormous power of the Oracle Cloud has enabled SailGP to transform the way data can be utilised in professional sailing. Case in point – without this computing power there would be no way of processing the 48 billion data points generated by the fleet of 10 F50 catamarans every sailing day.
SailGP's F50 wingsail sensors being set up before the start of the race weekend in Chicago
The F50s are some of the most advanced race boats on the planet. Each is fitted with 125 sensors – monitoring things like wind direction, flight height, and GPS position, as well as multiple hydraulic pressure and electronic voltages. Those sensors generate 1,700 data channels with 35,000 data points per second transmitted live to the cloud.
This massive flow of data is used in a variety of ways across the SailGP operation.
The live data streaming from the boats is similar in concept to the way that Formula 1 teams monitor the complexities of their cars’ engine, suspension, and tires out on the racetrack. Just as the F1 pit lane staff can feed vital information to the drivers about the way their car is performing, in SailGP each team is provided with discrete data dashboards highlighting what is going on aboard their F50 catamaran out on the water.
ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team's coaching crew on the chaseboat analysing the F50s live data during race.
A human touch
SailGP’s team of performance engineers – who are based on site at every event around the world – constantly monitor the boats critical live data on the lookout for any issues that would affect the boats’ performance.
The Performance Engineering Team also creates the dashboards that help the team’s make sense of the firehose of data coming off each boat as it races. These dashboards can be accessed by the athletes on board the F50s and also by the teams’ coaching staff who can feed key strategic and tactical information to the crew such as the wind’s direction and velocity gathered from the course marker buoys around the racecourse.
“All the data goes from the boats directly to the Oracle Cloud and we can monitor from here or remotely,” explains SailGP data analyst David Rey, as part of ROCKWOOL’s Beneath The Surface show in Los Angeles.
“The systems engineers monitor the boats live while they are sailing to check they are running equally and the systems are running smoothly. Then the data analysts help the teams consume the huge amounts of data that is coming off the boats in a way that is understandable and can help them perform better. The boats are all one-design [identical] but you can change a lot about how you set them up. The teams have access to that data live and we create dashboards that display key data.”
According to Peter Popp Wibroe, ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team’s Manager and Data Analyst, the data the teams receive can be grouped into three.
“Firstly, diagnostics – so that if we have an issue on the boat we can spot it and try to solve it. Then performance data – which we use to help make the boat sail faster. Then finally the strategic layer which helps the athletes understand the course and the location they are sailing in so they can make better racing decisions.”
The world’s best racing leagues come together
Unlike in Formula 1 – where the teams fiercely protect their proprietary data – SailGP is the only elite sport where the data on all the teams is open sourced and available to everyone. This key innovation introduced by the international league has kept the racing in SailGP consistently close and means new teams – like the Germany SailGP Team who joined for Season 4 – can quickly become competitive.
Four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel is a part owner of the German team and had this to say, on ROCKWOOL’s Beneath The Surface show:
“Some sports are more data-driven than others. [In SailGP] you get your chance through the data to ramp up your game, to improve and to compare with the others as to what they are doing, why, when, how. To have such full transparency is a great tool.”
Aside from helping the teams reach their full performance potential SailGP’s data-focused approach is also helping the circuit’s fanbase dive deeper into the action via the SailGP Insights platform that provides fans with live broadcast video overlaid with real-time race data – another groundbreaking first in the coverage of professional yacht racing.
The F50s lining up before the race strart of the first ever Los Angles Sail Grand Prix
It’s another example of how capitalising on the immense power of the Oracle Cloud has enabled SailGP to change the face of competitive sailing and helped the league go from strength to strength.
According to Jason Maynard, Vice President of Revenue Operations at Oracle, there is much more to come from the SailGP / Oracle relationship.
“The marriage of sports and data is an extremely powerful concept. I think the opportunity for the athletes and teams to leverage data to improve performance is really unprecedented.
“We have seen so much change in the last decade and it is going to be incredible to see what these teams can do with the data and how they change the way they operate and race.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where this potentially can go in the future.”