America’s Cup: Ainslie goes all-in with Mercedes F1

Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team has gone all-in with Mercedes F1 with James Allison appointed Chief Technical Officer of INEOS Britannia and operations currently in the Mercedes base in Brackley

Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup Challenge – now INEOS Britannia, formerly INEOS Team UK – launched the first stage of its tilt at the 37th America’s Cup today. INEOS Britannia revealed a number of key new personnel as well as just how closely the Cup team will be working alongside the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team at their base in Brackley.

The leadership team was unveiled in a video presentation hosted by Georgie Ainslie, with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Sir Ben Ainslie, David Endean, Toto Wolff and James Allison all present. It was broadcast from the Mercedes F1 base in Brackley. The location and presence of Wolff and Allison all provided an early clear direction of the team’s setup ahead of the next America’s Cup.

It’s clear that within the six months that have elapsed since the end of the 36th America’s Cup – which culminated in a successful defence for Emirates Team New Zealand and the British team bowing out in the Prada Cup Final – the team has been busy restructuring and making some tough decisions.

“We stopped pretty firmly in Auckland and then had to regroup. You need to be careful not to make rash decisions and now we need to make sure we have the right people involved,” explained newly promoted Chief Operating Officer, David Endean, who was with the team in Auckland as Project Director.

One such right person for the job is the newly hired Martin Fischer, who joins the team as Head of Design Concept. Fisher headed up the design team for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in the last Cup cycle, so comes with a great deal of experience in the AC75 and America’s Cup more broadly.

This will be a big scalp for the team, with such an experienced designer who was responsible for producing the boat which ultimately knocked the Brits out of the Cup last time round.

They have picked up another new design hire in Nat Shaver, a foil design expert who was with American Magic for the last America’s Cup too.

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Clearly the design decisions taken in the lead up to the last America’s Cup were identified as a weakness (read our piece in the development process which saw the Brits ultimately get knocked out of the America’s Cup in early 2021) and it is this area where there has been significant work on recruitment. It has also clearly been the impetus for a much closer working relationship with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, which developed during the last Cup cycle, partly when F1 racing was paused during lockdown.

“I don’t think the Brits have ever arrived at an America’s Cup with a boat that probably could have won, even though we have had some fantastic sailors,” commented Sir Jim Radcliffe.

Radcliffe is the man responsible for the Mercedes and INOES Britannia collaboration, being both the owner of the INOES Britannia team and a significant backer and stakeholder in the Mercedes F1 team.

“And our boat that we had for AC36 wasn’t capable of winning, technically it was not good enough,” he added.

America’s Cup and F1, happy bedfellows?

Since the America’s Cup moved to super-high speed foiling boats back in 2013 there has been a great deal of talk about the ways in which Formula 1 technologies can be used to improve the performance of America’s Cup yachts, be they the AC72 foiling catamarans, the AC50 foiling catamarans or the latest AC75 foiling monohulls.

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Toto Wolff and Sir Jim Ratcliffe

But for all the similarities between the two sports – both are essentially design, engineering and technology challenges in which the best sportspeople compete for victory – rarely has the inclusion of F1 designers, engineers or technology made any clear difference to a team winning the America’s Cup.

One could argue that for all the similarities, the differences are too great to make a significant impact one way or the other. Or perhaps, as appears to be the opinion of INEOS Britannia, integration needs to be done hand in glove at the outset.

“When people talk about the America’s Cup being like Formula 1 on water, most people immediately think, it’s hydrodynamic, it’s aerodynamic, it’s technical. But the most striking thing to me is that it is difficult,” explained James Allison, Chief Technical Officer of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team and now also Chief Technical Officer of INEOS Britannia.

“The way in which it has worked okay for us in F1 is to have the humility to admit that it is difficult and if you don’t your competition will eat you up. And this challenge; it is proper difficult.

“It’s really exciting that there is a team of experienced [Cup] engineers that are absolutely at the heart of what we are doing… and Mercedes will bring our own engineers, all of them capable, skilful engineers. Hopefully working with people who have done this Cup before, and understand it, we can work together to create something special, good enough for this one difficult challenge.”

ac75-sailing-david-freddie-carr-interview-running-shot-aft-credit-Team-INEOS-UK-Lloyd-Images

INEOS struggled with design in the last America’s Cup. Photo: Team INEOS UK / Lloyd Images

This broadly summarises the direction of travel for INOES Britannia. There is a new design team of top class naval architects and foil designers who will be working alongside the significant engineering, design, and technical know-how of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team.

Mercedes were involved in the last America’s Cup challenge with Ainslie’s team, but both Wolff and Allison pointed out on several occasions that they were not there at the start of the cycle and came in relatively late.

“Last time round there were, as Toto [Wolff] mentioned, people in the factory who got engaged as we had some of our own down in Portsmouth working on the boat and then eventually when it was racing there were people actually out there in Auckland.

“We were brought in to be capable bodies to put their shoulder to the wheel, but we did not have any real part in the strategy or the thinking behind it, we were just brought in to help. This time round we are all one big team trying to make sure we put something competitive together.

“It does feel different as we have a lot of skin in it and we want to make sure we are pulling our weight and to make sure we have something competitive when it comes to race time.”

A key member of the team in terms of syncing up both the naval architects and the Mercedes design team may be newly appointed Technical Director of INEOS Britannia, Geoffrey Willis. Willis is a Mercedes man and also Technical Director of Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science.

Willis started his design career in the sailing field, having been a member of the design team for Peter de Savary’s Blue Arrow America’s Cup Challenge – which ultimately did not compete in the 1988 America’s Cup, which became a deed of gift challenge between Michael Fay’s giant KZ-1 and Dennis Connor’s rigid winged catamaran, Stars and Stripes.

He then moved into Formula 1 and has built an impressive career working, and winning constructor championships, with a number of F1 outfits before moving to Mercedes in 2011.    

Willis will surely be a key member of personnel in essentially helping to stitch together two design teams from the two worlds of foiling and elite motorsport.

Auckland hosted a stunning event in 2020/21

A push for the Protocol

Though much of the presentation was given over to how INOES Britannia will be working alongside Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 there was another notable theme: the push to get the protocol published and get moving with the build up to the 37th America’s Cup.

There was a sense of impatience from the Challenger of Record to get to the protocol agreed. The protocol must be agreed by the Defender (Emirates Team New Zealand) and Challenger of Record (INEOS Britannia) and usually sets out the venue, the class of boat and most of the rest of the conditions under which the America’s Cup will be sailed.

Currently the protocol is due to be released on the 17 November, but there has been a great deal of debate surrounding the likely venue of the event. Emirates Team New Zealand have been looking into options other than holding it in Auckland, the scene of their successful defence.

Without knowing the venue and its likely wind conditions, all Challengers are limited to purely theoretical design development – something Martin Fischer made clear in a follow up video chat. As time is the deciding factor in many successful America’s Cup bids, the Challenger of Record, along with any other potential teams, is keen to get things moving as soon as possible.


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Source: Yachting World

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