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America's Cup: INEOS Britannia poach lead designer from Italians

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 4 Oct 2021 05:20 PDT 5 October 2021
INEOS Britannia Launch - Mercedes-AMG Petronas HQ, Brackley UK © INEOS Britannia

INEOS Britannia, the Challenger of Record for the 37th America's Cup have announced their design and management team lineup at a live broadcast from Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team's headquarters at Bracknell UK.

The acquisition of German born Martin Fischer, formerly design co-ordinator at long time Italian challenger Luna Rossa, was not expected.

"Formula 1 and the America's Cup share this common theme of being excellent in the sport and the technology," explained Jim Ratcliffe. "Not many sports share that hybrid. Mercedes are probably the most successful F1 team ever - that is a combination of good drivers and a car that is capable of winning. It is the same with the America's Cup - I don't think the Brits have ever arrived at the Cup with a boat that could have won. Our boat we had for AC36 wasn't good enough. It wasn't capable of winning," he said bluntly. "We learned lots of lessons, and the technical expertise that Mercedes F1 together with the sailing expertise of Ben and his team is quite exciting."

The approach of bringing two multi-disciplinary teams together for an America's Cup project is not new, and has been tried many times before - usually using resources from the aerospace industry. The difference with the INEOS Britannia set up is that it is based in Brackley at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas headquarters - and the two teams are under the one roof.

What will be interesting is how the sailing programs are handled, as INEOS Britannia are believed to have vacated their Portsmouth base several months ago, and their AC75's are in Auckland. Brackley is about as far away from the sea as you can get in UK. In the ideal world the AC75 will sail from a location in UK, probably resembling the 2024 America's Cup venue, and the boffins from both teams will watch the testing session using F1 pit and design technology screens. Emirates Team New Zealand did much the same, in the last America's Cup, using 5G technology from their team base in downtown Auckland. This whole process is made much easier and more convenient if the AC75 and design team are in the same time zone.

Hitting the performance milestones

The other issue is that in F1 the teams are racing usually every other week and have the opportunity to benchmark their progress both as an operational team, and with speed development. With the qualifying sessions before each event there is a good opportunity to know where they stand outside the hurly burly of the race track. But America's Cup is quite different. The teams will only be allowed to sail against themselves, with only one boat as in AC36. They will have a real "Come to Jesus" moment, when the serious racing begins - as INEOS Team UK found out to their horror in the America's Cup World Series event - when the spotlight went on their poor light wind foiling performance. The solution was to reach out to their new partners at Mercedes - and see what the F1 team could devise - but there was so much to do and so little time.

"Last time around we knew of some of the difficulties the team had endured," said Allison. "We could see and were involved in trying to reduce some of those difficulties, and try to help the boat become more competitive. But we knew that to fix some of them we would have needed a time machine, to go back a bit earlier, make a few decisions differently at the start of the campaign - and then it could have run in a different direction.

"We find ourselves now at the beginning of a fresh campaign with the combined learning of the INEOS team and what we [Mercedes-AMG Petronas] played in the last one, and what we saw, coupled with all the people who have joined up from other campaigns. We are trying to join it all up, so our combined knowledge is pooled from the beginning, so we don't wish we had a time-machine two years from now. We feel like we have stepped into this complicated design space in a good way to bring about the boat that Jim talks about - one that is good enough to win."

At the outset of the session Ben Ainslie made the point that some people who were with them on the previous campaign would not be continuing. "Sadly some aren't coming on the journey with us."

Ainslie was carrying the title of Principal, the same as Toto Wolff sitting to his left. There was no mention of a CEO to replace the departed Grant Simmer, and it would seem that the INEOS Britannia management structure would mirror that of the F1 team and the two would in some respects become the one organisation. Quite how that works when sailing operations begin remains to be seen, and it may well be that Simmer's responsibilities now fall to new COO David Endean.

Addressing the recruitment matters, Endean elaborated saying the team had come to a stop in Auckland and had to regroup "we took stock of where things were obviously. We have to be careful not to make rash decisions, going from one program to the next and now we are trying to rebuild this group and making sure we have the right people involved. We are working with the Mercedes team on where those skill sets are and where they can be applied. We are more focussed this time, looking forward. But there are still a lot of variables such as venue, and time."

Hurry up and wait

Others who spoke alluded to changes that are coming up in the Class Rule and Protocol, and wanting to wait until those are finally announced in five weeks.

"We're trying to plan, but we need the Protocol, which as Challenger of Record we need to negotiate with Team New Zealand. I wouldn't say either team now has an understanding of what those rules look like, we need to get that finalised by mid-November. And we are on track to do that. Until then we are trying to build the organisation and where people fit. But we need the specific rules to be able to charge ahead. We want to make sure everyone gets those rules and regulations as soon as they can, so we can all push forwards."

Toto Wolff, part owner and Team Principal of Mercedes-AMG Petronas quipped that he kept asking himself how he became involved with the America's Cup team. "I guess the trouble-maker sits there", he added with a nod in the direction of co-owner Jim Ratcliffe. "we both have a passion for engineering. There's not a lot of difference between putting the best car on the road, and racing others, and Formula 1 on water. That is the America's Cup. We slowly merged into the project late into the last campaign, but we loved it. I could see the buzz within the organisation and people started to follow America's Cup and embraced it as our own project. Now we are doing it properly this time around and we have the same mindset - trying to do the best possible job, so we will be right there."

"The most important thing is to stay humble", was Wolff's response to keeping an F1 team at the top. "You have to a mindset of being able to criticize yourselves. When you listen to one of our debriefs on Monday morning after a race that we have been lucky enough to win - it doesn't sound like the team that has won. We are always sceptical about our own achievements. We all suffer in a way from an imposter syndrome. People must be really good in this team to make us win, because I don't know what my contribution was," Wolff said self-deprecatingly. "That goes all through the organisation. Everyone feels it - even the most highly skilled engineers, and keeps us going. Every year we see ourselves not as the one to beat, but there is this Challenger mentality. We set expectations in the right way and we have zero sense of entitlement."

New Technical Director

The focus of the announcement was the talent sharing between the America's Cup team and Mercedes-AMG, in which INEOS Sport has one third ownership. Part of the line-up changes come from new roles in the F1 team where James Allison now has a joint responsibility with both the America's Cup and F1 teams, as Chief Technical Officer for Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 and INEOS Britannia. In Mercedes he has responsibility for both the chassis as well as the motors.

Geoffrey Willis becomes Technical Director with a sole focus on the America's Cup team. Willis does have some limited America's Cup team experience, having being involved as a hydrodynamicist in Peter de Savary's Blue Arrow Challenge which was in operation in the lead up to the 1988 Big Boat Challenge in San Diego, before breaking up and coming to a premature end. He worked for various F1 teams after Blue Arrow, and joined Mercedes as Director of Commercial Engineering in 2011.

Also joining the team is Nat Shaver as a foil designer.

The move to Brackley cements the relationship which began in late 2020, when then INEOS Team UK reached out to the Mercedes Formula 1 team through their joint owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who pointed out that there were a lot of common technical features between the F1 and America's Cup design aspects. "The car's got wings, the boats got foils. One's in water and the other is on air. There's a lot of similarity in systems with the Formula 1 car. "

Allison agreed pointing out that there were a lot of F1 skillsets that would lift directly into America's Cup. "There are people who could come from America's cup and hold down an F1 job, no problem - and then there are bits with are specific to both."

It's about the jaggedty bits

Asked specifically what the differences were between the specific disciplines, Allison used the foils as an example.

"In the America's Cup boat we are hyper-optimising one slender wing with very little separation on it. But it is the fine, fine detail of that which makes a huge difference. In F1 we are making quite big changes to lots of little jaggedty bits. But there are lots of challenges up and down the boat."

"When you come to Brackley it is hugely impressive," said INEOS Britannia CEO and Principal, Ben Ainslie. "We've been working here for three or four months - the discipline you feel when you come in and work with the guys is infectious. For our organisation we need that level of collaboration if we are going to take it to the next level, which ultimately we need to do is we are going to take on the mighty Kiwis - the All Blacks of sailing - that's the focus and attention that we need."

Fischer said he had been impressed with INEOS Team UK in Auckland "they were very well organised and set up. I spoke to some people in the team from projects I had worked in before, and that really sparked my interest to get into that team. After the Cup I contacted some people from INEOS and it worked out in the end."

On the differences between INEOS and Emirates Team NZ, Fischer quipped: "if we knew that we would just copy it!" He added that a big factor with Team New Zealand was the amount of time they had together - now four campaigns. "Team NZ was able to identify key points of the design relatively early, and then focus on refining them. In my opinion that was the main difference between them and all the other competitors. They could put more effort into refining a single path, early in the campaign," he said.

"From the F1 side we are bringing in very capable engineering and analysis tools in simulation, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and materials and design," explained Geoff Willis. For the F1 team the AC75 involvement provides an alternate universe - with a different design and thinking approach to what are related issues, and being able to work on those in the longer term, rather than in the context of the 22 circuit year, and having to make trade-offs in a car to compete on circuits with quite different characteristics.

AC75 rules changes loom

Fischer says he is not expecting to see big changes in the AC75 class rule except to improve the light air performance of the boats.

"The AC75 class is the most amazing class I have sailed," said double Olympic Gold medalist Giles Scott. "But its Achilles heel is the light wind performance. They are big boats and when they are in displacement mode they pick up a lot of drag. In the last Cup we saw the teams trying to optimise that light wind performance. Some teams had really big foils, or there were hull shapes that were completely different. The Kiwis managed to do some very clever things with their hull, and managed to make a small foil work. Everyone will be trying to push that end of the design space, but it is not the only problem out there. As the sailors get better, the design gets better and the takeoff gets better, because you don't need to take off becomes less of an issue. But in the light wind you need to get it right, because you can be dead in the water."

Willis says there are some similarities and differences in the aerodynamics and hydrodynamics between the F1 and AC75.

"In F1 we aren't used to the free surface effect where you have foils operating quite close to the surface of the water. There are flexible aerodynamic lifting devices in the form of sails, which are slightly new. But there are lots of flow features which we understand well. There are also the structural aspects of the composite structure. An AC75hull is very similar in concept as to how you build an F1 chassis. Then are lots of systems and gearboxes for transferring the power from grinders."

"What is more similar is that these are high performance difficult problems to solve."

"It is the mindset and the ability to bring in resources from a lot of different directions and the need to have a holistic design to balance pure performance against what you can achieve in the available time scale. Bluntly we don't have enough time to do an America's Cup boat. We never have enough time to do the race car.

"We always up against those pressures, and I am hoping to bring the experiences from the F1 world to meet the experiences from the America's Cup world. It's that synergy between the two organisations that makes me very excited to be part of it," Willis added.

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