The five-time Olympic medal winning Ben Ainslie and his hand-picked Land Rover BAR team simply ran out of time ahead of the 35th America's Cup.
Knocked out at the semi-final stage of the Louis Vuitton Challenger series by 5-2 against the eventual America’s Cup winners, ETNZ, Ben Ainslie’s start-up team Land Rover BAR did much that was right. Ainslie, flanked by backers Sir Keith Mills and Sir Charles Dunstone, built a superb new base in Portsmouth and assembled an almost fully British team of some of the world’s best sailors. The team also set up a sustainability programme and the 1851 Trust to promote education in science, engineering and maths.
They came into the Round Robin series as winners of the America’s Cup World Series. And with a £90 million budget, Land Rover BAR had all the money as well as the talent needed to win the Cup.
But they didn’t. They did not even come close. Why? What will Land Rover BAR be looking at in their debrief?
“When we arrived in Bermuda in November and lined up for the practice regattas we realised we had a speed issue,” sailing team manager Jono Macbeth tells us. “It was not a dramatic one from a pure performance point of view, but when we were on the race course that was amplified.
“We were not going to run out of money, we were going to run out of time.”
There is a trade off between the speed of foils and their stability, managed by control systems. “It’s a bit of an evolution of all three together,” explains Macbeth. “If your system isn’t accurate to control your boards properly, you lose your stability and you can’t realise the full speed of them.”
Ben Ainslie has not spoken much about the reasons, but in the days after their elimination he did give this very interesting perspective to Bermuda’s Royal Gazette.
“We knew we had issues looking back as far as last summer, testing in the UK, because we had a lot of structural failures in our daggerboards and our rudders. That had a knock-on effect of taking away critical testing time on our daggerboard design and rudder design.
“Lining up against the other teams and then seeing they were so far in front wasn’t a surprise; we knew we were on the back foot.
“Our daggerboard design ultimately wasn’t aggressive enough. That’s not pointing the finger at our designers; that’s the truth of it.
Design in detail – exactly what made Emirates Team New Zealand so fast?
“We were still putting new components, new rudders, on to the boat after racing began. It was a high-risk strategy, but we needed to do that because it was obvious that we were not quick enough.
“Taking more time to get the key strategy right would have helped us…. [Our] strategy was wrong and that goes a long way back; you can’t learn that from the other teams.
“You don’t know where they are going to go until they bring the boat out on the water. By then it is too late.”
Land Rover BAR is in the position now that Emirates Team New Zealand was in 2013. Some key people are leaving the team (the contracts run out in August) and new people will be brought in and/or poached. The soul-searching will be a painful experience.
How thinking outside the box won the Cup for Emirates Team New Zealand
BAR will carry on with the backing of Land Rover and their network of private supporters, and much of the campaign can be chalked up a success.
But who calls the shots, and what those shots should be, are the questions they need to answer to ‘bring the Cup home’.