Reflections on 2021

Ben Ainslie looks back on a rollercoaster year for INEOS Britannia

Ben Ainslie looks back on a rollercoaster year for INEOS Britannia

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What a year it’s been. For many reasons it has been a hugely challenging year for so many people worldwide and as it draws to a close, we wanted to take a few moments to reflect on our journey over the past 12 months, and what is coming up next over the horizon in 2022.

This time last year we were in a relentless period trying to resolve the technical issues we faced in the America’s Cup World Series before the PRADA Cup kickstarted in Auckland. We were working, eating, and in some cases sleeping in our base in New Zealand as the team grafted round-the-clock to turn our performance round.

What followed, of course, was a rollercoaster ride for the team, from the highs of the Round Robin win through to losing out to Luna Rossa in the PRADA Cup Final, and ultimately being named Challenger of Record for the 37th America’s Cup as Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finishing line to successfully defend the trophy.

The INEOS TEAM UK sailing team celebrating onboard BRITANNIA after winning the PRADA Cup Round Robin series (c) Harry KH / INEOS TEAM UK

Whilst it may not have been the result we wanted, we as a team learnt a huge deal from AC36, our second consecutive America’s Cup campaign. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact we were up against teams with over 20 years’ experience in this game. Continuity is the cornerstone of a successful America’s Cup team and after an extensive debrief period we are confident that the learnings from the last edition will stand us in good stead going forward.

As there are at least several years between America’s Cups, most would expect the period shortly after one Cup has finished to perhaps be a bit of a quiet period but that is not the case. As soon as, together with our challenging yacht club, Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd, we put that pen to paper issuing our challenge for the 37th America’s Cup, we have hit the ground running. It’s been full on.

The INEOS TEAM UK team gather outside their base in Auckland for a team meeting following the final day of the PRADA Cup, and the final day of the team's 36th America's Cup campaign (c) Harry KH / INEOS TEAM UK

I have to thank Jim Ratcliffe and the team at INEOS for their continued backing of the team. They are fantastic backers, have been totally committed to the team and are determined to build a successful organisation that can deliver a winning campaign.

The first task we faced after AC36 was rebuilding our core team, with a focus on the design team initially, and that is where the biggest development for us has come over the past 12 months. By the early summer, we had come together with Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science, a division of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, to form INEOS Britannia, bringing together the best of the worlds of high-performance marine and automotive engineering, with the goal to win the America’s Cup for Britain.

Since then the design team, led by James Allison and Geoff Willis, as well as Martin Fischer who joined us as Chief Designer from Luna Rossa, has been flat out working on our strategy for the 37th America’s Cup.

INEOS Britannia announce their core team for their 37th America's Cup challenge

It’s a huge step forward for our team, and recent news of course has shown that we are not the only team entering the America’s Cup with a F1 partnership. Alinghi Red Bull Racing’s recent entry is another massively exciting announcement for our sport. To see Mercedes F1 and Red Bull battle it out in two different sports will just add another dimension and we can’t wait to take the challenge on.

It was great to see Luna Rossa confirm their entry for AC37 recently too. The competition is clearly heating up already and that is testament to the success of the AC75 class, the Protocol for the next America’s Cup and how the competition is beginning to appeal to a wider audience than ever before.

The PRADA Cup saw thrilling racing between INEOS TEAM UK and Luna Rossa (c) C Gregory / INEOS TEAM UK

We only published the Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup together with the Defender Team New Zealand just over a month ago now, but we had been negotiating it with Team New Zealand, in our role as Challenger of Record, for several months. It’s a document we are pleased and excited with.

As Challenger of Record, we sought to make the next America’s Cup less expensive and more inclusive and the Protocol this time around will see an effort to reduce team operating costs without compromising any of the technical development which the Cup is so famous for. We were delighted to confirm the return of the Youth America’s Cup, and the brand-new Women’s America’s Cup, as well. These events will not only be hugely exciting from a spectator point of view but will do a great deal to support the creation of an improved pathway into high performance sailing.

The Youth and Women's America's Cup events will be raced onboard the revolutionary new AC40 class, a smaller version of the AC75 yachts used in the America's Cup

Writing about the next generation, our official charity, the 1851 Trust, has gone from strength to strength over the past 12 months, especially through its STEM Crew programme. In our current world access to free digital education resources has become more important than ever, and the work STEM Crew is doing to engage the innovators and problem solvers of the future with STEM subjects, is amazing to see. STEM Crew’s resources are currently used in over 50% of UK secondary schools which is an incredible feat for the charity we founded in 2014.

Looking ahead to 2022, we expect next year to be equally as full-on as this past one. By the end of March we expect to have a venue announcement for the 37th America’s Cup and we will know where we will be challenging for the ‘Auld Mug’. From our team point of view our strategy for next year is set and we are looking forward to getting cracking. Particularly exciting for me and rest of the sailing team will be the restart of our sailing programme as we begin our testing period for AC37. We can’t wait to get back out on the water pushing to the limit to find the gains necessary to take on our competitors.

Finally, we want to thank you, our fans, for your incredible continued support through the ups and downs we’ve faced over the past 12 months, particularly when we were in Auckland. As I said on the day we were knocked out of the PRADA Cup; we started this team in 2014 with the goal to bring the America’s Cup back to Britain for the first time in history and as far as we’re concerned, we still need to get that job done.

Happy New Year,

Ben