It is commonly said when Alexander the Great reached India he wept because there were no more worlds left to conquer. Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team has yet to weep. Despite currently being locked in the grips of a title fight with Red Bull Racing, Mercedes has collected laurel after laurel over the prior seven seasons en route to seven Formula One World Constructors’ Championships. The team representing the German manufacturer now has its eyes set on the oldest trophy in international sport, the America’s Cup.
At the start of the month, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team jointly announced an integral partnership with the INEOS Britannia sailing team at the F1 team’s headquarters in Brackley, UK. The collaborative effort between Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science, a division of the F1 team, and INEOS Britannia has set out with the ultimate goal of winning the 37th America’s Cup Match. The head-to-head regatta for the trophy will begin on a yet-to-be-determined date, most likely in either 2022 or 2023.
The partnership between two entities was natural due to their shared ties with British chemicals giant INEOS. INEOS Britannia is owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and CEO of the chemicals company. INEOS is also a principal partner of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. This alliance also isn’t entirely new as the F1 team’s applied science division also supplied support in the challenge for the COVID-affected 36th America’s Cup, held in March 2021. Though for this challenge, figures within the F1 team will also hold similar roles on the sailing team. Most notably, James Allison, the Chief Technical Officer of Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team will hold the same position at INEOS Britannia.
Leading INEOS Britannia will be Sir Ben Ainslie in the roles of CEO, Team Principal and Skipper. Ainslie is widely considered to be one of the greatest sailors of all-time with 4 Olympic gold medals and 11 World Championships to his name. He has seen a level of success on the water comparable to the success that Sir Lewis Hamilton has seen on the road with Mercedes. Though, the United Kingdom has never won the America’s Cup despite creating the trophy.
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The origins of the competition date back to 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron hosted a race around the Isle of Wight. A fleet of 15 RYS yachts was defeated by the yacht America. Six years later, the owners of the America donated the trophy they won that day to their yacht club, the New York Yacht Club, under “the condition that it shall be preserved as a perpetual challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries” as defined by its Deed of Gift. The Deed of Gift still serves as the effective constitution of the competition today with the New York Supreme Court serving as the document’s ultimate arbiter. The silver trophy was renamed after the yacht, hence the America’s Cup.
The teams who sail for the cup today still compete under the burgee (or flag) of a yacht club. INEOS Britannia represent the same Royal Yacht Squadron. After winning the America’s Cup around the Isle of Wight, the New York Yacht Club had a stranglehold on the competition. The club successfully defended the Cup twenty-four consecutive times over 132 years, the longest winning streak in the history of sports. During this period, one of the most famous rivals of the New York Yacht Club was Sir Thomas Lipton. Yes, the same Lipton of tea fame. Lipton had earned a reputation as a valiant and lovable loser over his five consecutive challenges for the America’s Cup in 1899, 1901, 1903, 1920 and 1930.
This push for the America’s Cup will make INEOS Britannia the first British outfit to mount three straight challenges since Sir Thomas Lipton. Racing yachts have drastically transformed since the days of Lipton. The current generation of America’s Cup yachts, constructed with carbon fiber hulls and semi-rigid wingsails, utilize hydrofoils to literally fly over the surface of the water at speeds over 57 mph. Blistering speeds for a vehicle that is solely powered by the wind.
Similar to Formula One, skill on course isn’t enough alone to be successful. A huge financial commitment is required as well as engineering expertise, as acknowledged by Jim Ratcliffe during the announcement. He said, “The America’s Cup has been 170 years pain for us in Britain. We’ve had fantastic sailors in this country, but we’ve never had the boat that could win.” The phrase “170 years of pain” paraphrases words said by Ben Ainslie during their previous Cup campaign earlier this year. History certainly weighs heavily on this team.
While the United Kingdom has never won the America’s Cup, Ainslie actually has. He won the trophy for the United States, sort of like a reverse Benedict Arnold. In 2013, he successfully defended the America’s Cup as the on-board tactician for Oracle Team USA, representing the Golden Gate Yacht Club. During the middle of the 34th America’s Cup Match, the American team recruited Ainslie to replace their initial tactician. When he entered the best-of-13 series of races, Oracle Team USA was behind four wins to zero against Emirates Team New Zealand. At one point, Team New Zealand was ahead eight wins to one with a match victory on the brink of being secured with a ninth race win. Improbably, almost impossibly, Ainslie and Oracle Team USA won eight straight races to comeback, win the match and defend the America’s Cup in San Francisco Bay.
Four years later, Oracle Team USA without Ben Ainslie would lose the America’s Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand, who still hold the trophy today. Ben Ainsley’s ability, INEOS Britannia’s experience and Mercedes-AMG F1 Team’s expertise might be enough to dethrone Emirates Team New Zealand. Though, only time will tell if they do. The speed, drama and intrigue of the America’s Cup await whenever and wherever the next match takes place.