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British syndicate revs up third America’s Cup Challenge with Mercedes Formula 1 team partnership
My take on the Ineos Britannia announcements after attending the team's media day held at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team headquarters on Monday.
The America’s Cup entered a new era this week with the announcement that British syndicate Ineos Britannia – formerly Ineos Team UK – had entered a close partnership with the all-conquering Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team for its challenge for the 37th America’s Cup.
I am a great believer in the adage ‘Don’t tell me what you are going to do, tell me what you have done’ and that is exactly what Sir Ben Ainslie’s team did on Monday at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas headquarters in Brackley, England.
There was no wistful navel gazing, no misty-eyed nostalgia about the UK being the spiritual home of the America’s Cup, just straight up honesty and pragmatism – beginning with explaining why the team came home empty-handed from AC36 in New Zealand.
“We just didn’t design and build a fast enough boat,” was Ainslie’s succinct explanation during the media round table after the live-streamed announcement from the top floor Silver Arrows hospitality lounge in Brackley.
“I don’t mean to put the blame squarely on our design team,” he added. “As head of the whole organisation, I take responsibility.”
Fortunately, the team’s owner – UK billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, chairman and CEO of the Ineos global chemical company – is in the America’s Cup for the long haul and willing to back Ainslie for his third tilt at winning sailing’s oldest and most prestigious competition.
“My take on Jim is that he is one of these guys that if he sees a challenge, the harder it is, the more attractive it is, and he doesn't want to give up on it,” Ainslie told us. “And that's the same for me. We set this goal to win the Cup and we have still got to get the job done.
Ainslie recalled the initial debriefs with Ratcliffe in Auckland after AC36 as being ‘pretty honest discussions’ about why the team didn’t perform better, which soon transitioned into questions like ‘How do we improve? How do we move forward?’.
Whether or not Ratcliffe took a bit of a back seat in the last America’s Cup, it is clear that he is very much involved in the direction this one is taking. Hence the tie up with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team in which he recently purchased a 30 per cent stake.
Ineos Britannia combines the existing specialist expertise and intellectual property assets of the sailing team with Mercedes-AMG Applied Science – a division of the Formula 1 team established in 2019 to make best use people and other resources made available by the F1 budget cap introduced this year.
From the sailing team side Ainslie continues in his roles as team principal/CEO and skipper, with his tactician from AC36, British double Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott the only other sailor announced at this stage.
Dave Endean steps up from his project director role in the last campaign to take over as chief operating officer (COO), with Matt Robinson and Jo Grindley continuing as chief financial officer (CFO) and chief marketing officer (CMO)/chief communications officer (CCO) respectively.
In what is a major coup for the British campaign, eminent German designer Martin Fischer – previously with Luna Rossa for AC36 – has joined the team as head of design concept. Also recruited is American foil design guru Nat Shaver who joins from US syndicate American Magic.
What sets this new partnership aside from any of the tenuous technology hook ups we have heard about from America’s Cup teams in previous editions is the involvement in the project of senior figures from within the Formula 1 team.
People like James Allison – the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team chief technical officer – who will be the technical lead for Ineos Britannia, and Geoffrey Willis – the F1 team’s technical director.
Both these two are big hitters in the motorsport world and senior figures in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. Their inclusion in the Ineos Britannia set up is an indication of the level of commitment the F1 team has attached to the America’s Cup project.
During Monday’s live-streamed announcement and in the round table and one-on-one interviews later when asked what Mercedes-AMG Applied Science brought to the campaign, Ainslie repeatedly used the word ‘discipline’.
“There is a culture here that you notice straight away,” he told us. “I was so taken aback when I first came here and walked around the design offices and saw everyone’s focus and discipline. I think that culture and attention to detail is something that would be good for us as an America's Cup team.”
He’s not wrong about the impact a visit to the Formula 1 team base has on you. I was only there for a few hours on Monday but came away hugely impressed.
There is a quiet, assured confidence that pervades the entire operation – from the gate keeper who told me where to park, to the catering staff serving coffee and three types of water, to the team’s CEO Toto Wolff.
I guess that’s the culture that naturally evolves at an organisation that has won Formula 1’s driver and constructor championships seven consecutive times since 2014.
“I think what Ben means is that if you walk into our design office in any given weekday there’s not a riotous noise, it’s sort of quiet and focused,” Allison told us in his round table session.
“There’s hubbub of conversation here and there and there’s laughter, but if you look around on every screen you will see a part of an engineering design with some designer working on it – and people bent to the task of trying to get done what we are trying to do as a shared goal.
“You can’t walk away without a sense of ‘shit, these people are on a mission’ – and I think that is something that Ben noticed straight away when he walked in here.”
The other potential America’s Cup teams will be sitting up and taking notice too. Some might even be quaking in their sea boots when they see how far the British squad has got with this key relationship.
It could even be that the British have raised the bar for mounting a viable challenge for the America’s Cup to the point that you might as well not bother if you haven’t buddied up to major F1 entity.
Rumours have emerged that Alinghi will join forces with the Red Bull F1 team for a 37th America’s Cup challenge, and that Luna Rossa are circling Ferrari in an attempt to do a similar deal.
American Magic meanwhile are yet to get NASCAR team owner Roger Penske – also owner of the Indy 500 race and the IndyCar official governing body – to commit to another AC campaign. Just how well NASCAR technology expertise would stack up against F1 I am not sure.
The British team’s announcement was also heard loud and clear down in Auckland, New Zealand where the current America’s Cup holder Emirates Team New Zealand is battling to secure the funding it needs both to stage the next edition of the Cup and to successfully defend it.
“It’s impressive,” the team’s CEO Grant Dalton told Duncan Johnstone from Stuff.
“To me, it just gives context as to why we can’t contemplate an under-funded campaign. That’s because this (British) team are not only fully weaponised now as they move forward with their design process – they also have as much money as they need.”
Further interviews from the Ineos Britannia media day with James Allison, Ben Ainslie, and Toto Wolff are to follow in the next 48 hours.