By holding his own against some of the best English-speaking crews, Quentin Delapierre has certainly left his mark on the third season of the SailGP circuit. At the age of just 31, the sailor from Vannes in Brittany well and truly earned his stripes in the elite group of international sailing. In 2024, he will be the helmsman on the French Orient Express Team’s AC75 in the America’s Cup. Time to analyse this amazing success story on the eve of the of the final stage in San Francisco this weekend, with Bruno Dubois, director of SailGP France, Guillaume Chiellino, the French Sailing Federation’s technical director, his fellow sailors, Manon Audinet, Matthieu Salomon and Thomas Coville, the trainer, Thierry Douillard and the journalist Christophe Favreau.
Before piling the pressure on the Australians and New Zealanders, who are practically certain of winning their place in the Super Final of the SailGP circuit on Sunday, the heat will be on for the French team on Saturday. Third before the final Act with just one point more than his idol, Ben Ainslie, Quentin Delapierre has to beat the Brits, if he wants to make it to the Super Final, when the scores are reset to zero.
“This is a special moment in any career. You don’t get to do battle with these monsters every day!” admitted the helmsman of the French F50, who is well aware of what is at stake, with SailGP adding a million dollars of prize money. “The hardest part is going to be staying on the podium on Saturday and withstanding all the pressure that everyone will be putting on us,” confessed Bruno Dubois. “Not just the Brits, but the bookmakers, SailGP, the media, sponsors and ourselves.”
The manager of the French team nevertheless knows that his gamble of replacing Billy Besson with Quentin Delapierre in the middle of the second season in order to get a better outcome in season 3, has already paid off. Introduced in Cadiz in October 2021, the sailor from Vannes, who was not yet thirty years old, won his first race eight months later in Chicago. The first final in Denmark in August of that year and the outright speed record set in Saint-Tropez in September with a speed of 53.96 knots earned the team the nickname of the “Breezy Barbarians.”
but the heat is on
The first Act victory was obtained in Cadiz, exactly a year after Delapierre was appointed. This success was repeated by the French team in Sydney three months later when they got to third place overall. “Delapierre is well respected by the big names in the circuit, because of the ease with which he starts and his speed particularly in a breeze,” explained Christophe Favreau, who has been following Sail GP for Voiles et Voiliers magazine. “A year ago, he was the little Frenchman making his debut. Now, he is part of that world.”
Quentin Delapierre did not have to wait for the SailGP to begin his meteoric rise as he achieved that in other circuits. In 2014, even back then alongside Kevin Peponnet, who is now the trimmer aboard the French F50, he signed up for the European J80 circuit, which he won finishing ahead of the big guns. For his first Tour de France Sailing Race aboard a Diam 24 (2015), he raced in the amateur rankings finishing fourth overall (out of 22), in an event which featured all of the major French multihull talents. “We were just so ambitious that we weren’t aiming to beat anyone in particular. We wanted to beat them all!” remembers Matthieu Salomon, who stayed with Quentin from their first tacks at the Cataschool in Larmor Baden right up to 2018. The success was confirmed the following year with their first win, which they repeated in 2018.
“He also did some match racing on a Laser, and once again with the same degree of success,” added Guillaume Chiellino, the French team director for the Tokyo Games. At that time the Nacra 17 circuit was dominated by Billy Besson and Marie Riou, four times world champions, who were logically set to race in their second Olympics after Rio. But Delapierre dreamt of the Olympics and was contacted by Manon Audinet less than two years before the event and took the plunge. “I didn’t call up anyone else,” explained Manon. “I knew how hard-working he was and we needed someone able to race in a sprint. He had the look of someone who was ready for anything and that suited me!” Second in the 2020 Europeans, winner of the Enoshima test event on Olympic waters and earning the respect of Besson-Riou at the Worlds, Delapierre and Audinet stubbornly obtained their ticket for Japan.
A certain vision
of top class sailing
Their eighth place in Enoshima would not live up to their hopes. However, the Games marked a turning point for Delapierre, as they left him with an impossible choice. After his second victory in the Tour de France sailing race in 2018, his partner, Lorina Limonades offered him the post of skipper on a Multi50. “Everything was laid out for him, the sponsor, the yard, the designer,” remembers Bruno Dubois, with whom he was already in contact back then. The dream opportunity to enter the world of ocean racing, “to sail with his long term friends, Salomon, Peponnet and Ponroy with a team project, an idea that Quentin was fundamentally attached to,” added Thomas Coville who became friends with him during the Diam 24 training courses at the French National Sailing School and who willingly welcomed him aboard Sodebo alongside others who would later join SailGP (Matthieu Vandame, François Morvan in particular).
But Quentin Delapierre was attracted to international events. “His lifelong ambition is to win the Cup, not merely be French champion,” explained Matthieu Salomon. “He knew what he had to do to reach that goal.” What better route was there than to go from Olympic sailing to SailGP, clearly seen as the way into the America’s Cup?
Ocean racing would have to wait. Delapierre turned down Lorina’s offer, preferring to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was for a long time a top class windsurfer and therefore he started to prepare for a possible Olympics. “A decision that showed his commitment, and which was quite remarkable for someone living in Brittany,” commented Bruno Dubois, who declared that “there wasn’t any short list,” when the time came to replace Besson: “Quentin was the natural choice.”
A born leader
who never stops working
Promoted to taking the helm of the world’s most extreme catamaran, which he knew so little about, some expected Delapierre to fall flat on his face, but he found the right words for those going aboard with him: “The team was worn out after such disappointing results. My job was to bring the energy back,” he said in one of his first interviews. Well recognised even back then for his leadership qualities, Delapierre developed the method, which had seen him become so successful: total commitment and uniting the team.
“He is extremely demanding of himself and you have to work hard to keep up with his level of involvement,” remembers Matthieu Salomon. That was confirmed by Manon Audinet. “He is very strong making everything he does look achievable, so that naturally gets you dreaming.” She added, “However, you need to keep your wits about you, as sometimes you can really get screamed at, but it is never personal. It’s always to spur you on.”
While he did not make any major changes to the crew of the F50 capitalising instead on what they had already learnt, he took advantage of the departure of the wing trimmer, Leigh McMillan to appoint Kevin Peponnet to that key position. The pairing worked wonders and after a few adjustments, the results started to improve in the third season. Not as well known as Besson with his innate ability at the helm, Delapierre “got to grips with the F50,” according to Thierry Douillard, the team coach. “He is perfectly able to understand the technological side of things and is able to put a number on everything he feels and that is what makes all the difference.” Often compared to Franck Cammas from this point of view, according to Thomas Coville, he “brings together the technical aspects and sporting ability required by these flying boats today. I can’t remember any other French sailors showing such all-round ability.”
“In the end, his only weakness is that he has never won any major event,” concluded Guillaume Chiellino. “But that is also his strength. He doesn’t yet feel the pressure from the general public, but he’s on his way.” We’ll see what happens this weekend in San Francisco.
Photo: Ricardo Pinto for SailGP