Sir Ben Ainslie has been at the forefront of new agreements that have changed the America's Cup
Ainslie and Martin Whitmarsh, the former McLaren Formula One boss who is now chief executive of his Land Rover BAR America’s Cup challengers, have been the catalyst of massive changes to the event which for the first time are being driven by sailors as much as moneymen.
The America’s Cup will now be contested on a two-year cycle rather than four, the cost to a new team will halve to around £30m, and the World Series which runs between each Cup will now carry points into the Challenger Play-offs to take on the defender.
“This is really pivotal to the future of the America’s Cup,” said
Ainslie, who also nodded to the past by returning from Bermuda where he is preparing for this summer’s Challenge to make the announcement at London’s House of Garrard, the jewellers who created the original trophy.
“The Cup has an incredible history over more than 165 years, but now the teams can actually start planning for the future.”
Land Rover BAR
Ainslie along with other America's Cup competitors
The ability to plan has long been at the heart of the America’s Cup’s problems. The event would grab attention for a month and then disappear from global consciousness; mired in courtroom battles between warring team owners who could not agree on anything while interest – and prospective teams – would sink.
Now it is the teams, nowadays mostly run by if not owned by professional sailors, who have wrestled control by arguing for a clarity and consistency that is unheard of for this event.
At the heart of this drive is Whitmarsh, who could not understand why the most advanced – and expensive – blue-riband event in sailing had no consistency or clarity. Ainslie’s decision to hire the former maestro of
McLaren (look how far they have sunk since his departure) and chairman of the F1 Teams Association (some experience, then, in bringing sworn enemies to the table) has proved inspired. Ainslie BAR won the World Series; all but one of this Cup’s teams are talking about how the future will look. At last.
“Martin brought a new perspective, as someone not from the yachting world,” said Ainslie. “That was one of the key goals of Martin joining the team, to set about trying to get a framework agreement in place.
Land Rover BAR chief Martin Whitmarsh also played a key part in the changes to the America's Cup
“Martin has the credibility of coming from Formula One, and the fresh perspective to be a bridge between some of the teams that otherwise might not have been able to get there.
“He is very much part of the model that we bought into when we launched the team and his involvement helped push that along. It’s something we had thought about for a long time, and his expertise has helped to push it through.
“It has been an interesting process to get these teams around the table and then across the line. It’s a huge achievement.
“A lot of the sailors are now running and owning these teams and that’s a big change from previous America’s Cups. It used to be just an individual billionaire owning these teams and making decisions.
Now the sailors are much more involved. It’s much more commercial than it’s ever been, and that is why you have seen the push to have an agreement like this that absolutely works for the future of the sport.
“This is a pivotal moment. It is realistic. We need the continuity to survive and be successful in a commercial sport.”
Ainslie has already played a huge part in giving the Auld Mug, as the trophy is known, a new lease of life by sparking Oracle Team USA’s remarkable comeback from 8-1 down to beat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8 in the last match in 2013.
The new foiling catamarans that lifted out of the water to reach speeds of 50 knots only yards from the shoreline helped to grab the attention of a whole new generation, and Whitmarsh himself is thrilled to have had the chance to help grasp the opportunity.
“To be involved in a sport with the potential this one has is massively exciting,” he said. “It wasn’t easy but there is a willingness to collaborate and agree. I have high expectations.”
And Jimmy Spithill, skipper of the Cup holder Oracle Team USA, added: “This is the oldest trophy in international sport, and this is a defining moment. We will look back on this and ask why on earth we didn’t do this years ago.”