Hamilton takes cover after racing into Atomic collision

Britain's middle order racing sailors will have to be at their best this week if they are to see the union flag fluttering proudly in the Rolex Commodores' Cup off Cowes this week. With conditions indicating near-perfect racing, any errors will be severely punished.

The French are the current holders, doing a demolition job last time in 2006, their two teams scoring first and third, and they are back with four three-boat teams in determined mood. Splitting them was an Irish team and they are seen as the main threat again. Britain's best last time was fourth and they also line up with four teams. They will also face a threat from the Netherlands, Spain and Hong Kong.

The schedule is busy, including five inshore races, a 24- to 36-hour offshore, a round the island – clockwise not anti, as the 1,875 entries were set for Saturday's annual jamboree when Mike Slade's Leopard set a new record of 3hr 53min 05sec, then a double points final inshore dash.

There were incidents even before the start as first Leopard collided with the 49-foot Pace, narrowly missing helmsman Nick Griffiths and sending the damaged yacht back to the yard for repairs.

Ten minutes later, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, having been put aboard Alex Thomson's Open 60 Hugo Boss, had to take cover as the shiny black round the world racer took out the stay holding up the mast of the 45-foot Atomic. Boss's bowsprit snapped and developed terminal droop, the mast on Atomic crashed down and Thomson beetled off down the Solent to win his class and then be thrown out by an international jury. The Commodores' Cup is likely to be just as competitive.

This is the first public showcase for the new chief executive of the organising Royal Ocean Racing Club, Eddie Warden Owen. Previously coach to the Spanish America's Cup team, Owen, from Trearddur Bay, Anglesey said: "It has been an interesting challenge coming in just five months ago and seeing everything from the other side," he said. "We try to keep this event as Corinthian as possible though the sprinkling of professionals help the whole team.

"We think the event is popular, the handicap rule is being adopted by more and more countries, so I think we can only see it grow. It will definitely stay based at Cowes."

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