2021 America’s Cup: Michael Burgess – Why INEOS Team UK are vital to the America’s Cup
A greyhound, a couple of whippets and a corgi.
That was the inescapable conclusion from the America’s Cup World Series in late December, when we saw all four AC75 boats racing for the first time.
That contest revealed that Team New Zealand are seriously quick, but American Magic and Luna Rossa are, in the words of Jimmy Spithill, only a “click or two behind”.
And then there were the British. They had some good moments in the pre-starts, with Sir Ben Ainslie demonstrating his tactical acumen, but that was about where it stopped, as they limped around the course.
Ainslie, while candid and honest about their obvious issues, was steadfast in his belief that they could solve their problems and somehow put more pep in Britannia’s step.
For the sake of the Prada Cup, it’s vital that they do. Otherwise, the round robin and semifinal phase will be redundant, and no one among the neutrals wants just two competitive boats.
It would still be better than 2013, where the challenger series was completely one sided, but far from optimal.
Some kind of Ineos Team UK revival, whether modest or magnificent, is also important for the long-term future of the America’s Cup.
A British presence in the event is huge; they have the longest history of challenging for the Cup, with 21 attempts over 167 years, since the first contest in 1851. They were the primary challenger until the 1960s, when Australian syndicates came to the fore.
Since then, despite their proud achievements as a nautical nation, their interest in the event has waned. There were no challenges between 1964 and 1980 and only one (2003, Wight Lightning) in the period between Freemantle (1987) and Bermuda (2017).
Ainslie attracted massive corporate support for that campaign four years ago and has upped the stakes this time, with the backing of Britain’s richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
But he – and Ainslie – with need to see some sort of return on their investment otherwise there will be serious doubts about the future.
If they decide, like Patrizio Bertelli and Luna Rossa, to commit to a long-term Cup quest, that will be an intangible boost, especially if one day the Auld Mug ‘returns’ to the Royal Yacht Squadron.
Whatever happens to the British over the next two months, Kiwis shouldn’t be too smug, especially those who remember the painful events of 2003.
Like Ineos Team UK, that Team New Zealand campaign went for a revolutionary approach with their boats.
However, it was overly design-driven without enough input from the sailing team. There were hyped up innovations like the ‘hula’ and NZL-82 looked fast at times, but wasn’t functional or reliable, with the defender having to withdraw (twice) from races for the first time in Cup history, due to breakages and gear failure, including a broken mast.
Back then, the Team New Zealand brains trust felt they had to think way outside the square, while the internal team dynamics had been compromised after the departure of so many key personnel to other syndicates.
But at least there was an established template to work with, as the International America’s Cup class yachts had been part of the scene since 1992.
This time around it was different, with a new highly complex and complicated class.
The British gambled on a win or bust strategy, reasoning they were never going to beat Team New Zealand by playing it safe.
The cancellation of scheduled lead-up events added another level of risk, meaning Ainslie’s team couldn’t accurately assess their progress until they arrived in Auckland.
Somewhere, somehow, the British have got their equations and calculations badly wrong; maybe they relied too much on simulator feedback rather than the traditional yacht design and perhaps the input of a large unit (seconded) from the Mercedes Formula 1’s team applied science division muddied the waters further.
No one knows, especially outside the confines of their base, and that doesn’t really matter now.
It’s more important to find some kind of solution, whether it’s a band aid or surgery, that will give their talented crew something to work with over the next few weeks.
For Queen and country.
Enjoy smooth sailing to the Cup with Auckland Transport
• Avoid traffic congestion and parking niggles and download the AT Mobile app to plot your bus, train or ferry ride to race venues before you leave home.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride to the Cup
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup
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