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Challenge ahead

Sunshine and the scrubbed and manicured backdrop of Greenwich’s Maritime Museum meant London was looking at its best for the Ben Ainslie Racing America’s Cup announcement today. A photo-call with Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, brought plenty of press interest besides the usual sport and business coverage, as well as bit of restrained English glamour to the event.

The television presentation which opened the press conference made much of the uniquely British heritage behind this bid. The first America’s Cup was held right here in Cowes, it is Britain’s to win back. Surprisingly then, the challenge is not a staunchly British affair – so far. Despite being a long-standing member of the most successful Olympic sailing squad of all time, Ben’s America’s Cup team is not particularly Olympic, and the man he cited as first on his wish list is a Kiwi, Jono Macbeth. A four-time winner of the America’s Cup, Macbeth joins as sailing team manager. Ben described his appointment as “a no-brainer”, saying “he commands total respect”.

The other sailors named are Brits Freddy Carr and Nick Hutton, who both had big success on the Extreme 40 circuit before moving to Luna Rossa, and Ben’s long-time crew Matt ‘Catflap’ Cornwell, together with Andy McLean (NZL), who joins as sailing team/design liaison.

On the design front too, BAR Racing has bought in talent – from the enemy where necessary. Dirk Kramers has been poached from Oracle USA, a significant hiring which will give BAR a major headstart in the creation of their AC62, given the new class’s similarity to the last cycles 72-footers.

Andy Claughton and Clay Oliver are joined by a very international set of designers on the modeling/analysis side of things. Jason Ker, the last British designer to be involved in the America’s Cup, has also been signed, although he admitted to me he is on a steep learning curve with this Cup cycle.

There were some names that were not mentioned – much has been rumoured about the potential involvement of Adrian Newey, F1 designer extraordinaire. The speculation was heightened when he was quoted by Sky Sports last weekend as saying, “I am looking forward to some different challenges, I’ve had a great time in Formula 1, but it is time to get involved in different things.”

When questioned about Newey’s participation, Ainslie smiled, and said “I’ve met Adrian Newey a number of times, he’s a fantastic guy and an amazing Formula One designer. He is very keen on sailing in the America’s Cup, but he also has huge commitments with Formula One at the moment, so we’ll see. It would be a huge asset for our team if over the coming months and years he could be involved.”

They clearly want him, although it’s not to say BAR definitely needs Newey. When it comes to designing fast foiling catamarans, they have an impressive set of CVs. Of course, Newey would also bring with him connections to some of the most valuable sporting sponsorship around.

Newey is currently technical chief at the Red Bull F1 team. Red Bull were title sponsors of the Youth America’s Cup, a partner sponsor of Oracle USA, and currently have an Extreme 40 entry in the ESS. Would they be a good fit for BAR? Representing the Royal Yacht Squadron, endorsed by the Duchess of Cambridge, and with a knighted skipper, BAR is a seriously classy act. But English tradition won’t necessarily help secure an £80million budget. (Of course, potentially recruiting Newey might have some other impacts on the team budget: he was reported to earn around $10million as F1’s most successful designer.)

Although the BAR challenge is credible, it needs commercial backing. Ainslie told Harriet Hadfield from Sky News that of their £80 million budget, “A proportion of that is through private investors, about 40%, and the other 60% we need to raise commercially.” Which is £48million.

Whilst the football World Cup in Rio might currently feel inescapable, FIFA’s major backers, which include Adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony and Visa, will be relieved about that, given they are reported to pay $25-50million per year for the association. That’s the scale of the immediate task ahead.

So for now, we wait. Having the support of the most photographed woman in the world is unlikely to hurt their cause.

 

The Duchess of Cambridge and Sir Ben Ainslie ©Lloyd Images

The Duchess of Cambridge and Sir Ben Ainslie ©Lloyd Images

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