Ainslie forges links with the F1 fast lane

By Alan Baldwin
America's Cup skipper Ben Ainslie from Ben Ainslie Racing poses with the America's Cup during a news conference introducing the 35th America's Cup, in London September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Daniel Leal-Olivas
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By Alan Baldwin PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) - If Ben Ainslie succeeds in his bid to bring the America's Cup back to Britain in 2017, it will be thanks also to engineers and designers who have helped the likes of Lewis Hamilton go faster in Formula One. The four-times Olympic sailing gold medalist, whose team believe it is much more a case of when than if, has enlisted his country's motorsport and automotive industries as key allies. "We've really gone for it in a major way but I'm absolutely certain that's the right approach," Ainslie told Reuters at his harbourside headquarters when asked about the motorsport connection. "These boats now foil out of the water. There's very little in the water. It's about aerodynamics, it's about control systems, hydraulic systems and the automotive industry obviously lead the way." Land Rover were announced on Wednesday as title sponsors of the team that has former McLaren Formula One team principal Martin Whitmarsh as chief executive. Red Bull's Adrian Newey, the designer whose cars have won titles with three separate F1 teams, is involved while Prodrive -- the engineering company who have won world rally championships and run F1 teams -- are also on board. Just recently, Whitmarsh recruited Richard Hopkirk -- previously one of double world champion Hamilton's race tacticians at McLaren before the Briton moved to Mercedes -- from Red Bull as head of simulation. It is a deliberate move for Ainslie, whose wife Georgie also worked in Formula One as a television presenter, who said he realized when winning the Cup with Oracle Team USA in San Francisco in 2013 what needed to be done. "It was a conscious decision that I noted from my time with Oracle," he continued. "We had a lot of issues by trying to create a lot of these systems internally. "Hydraulic control systems were constantly failing because we were trying to do it internally and didn't have the expertise of the automotive industry." Oracle won that 34th edition of the Cup 9-8 after trailing 8-1 to Team New Zealand in one of the greatest comebacks in sport. The boats to compete in the 35th America's Cup are AC45 catamarans, in the 45-50 foot range, that can reach speeds of 40mph with hydrofoils lifting the boat out of the water with decreased drag. Once dubbed the "most competitive man in the world by fellow competitors, Ainslie sees kindred spirits in those who have come across. "It's a tough business, motorsport. And the America's Cup's the same," he said. "Having worked with Martin now it's clear that Formula One is a step above the America's Cup in how it operates. "We need to take some of those lessons and if we can be the first team to make that jump, then it should put us in good stead." Winning the Cup in Bermuda is the aim but Ainslie also wants to leave behind the old 'stop-start' approach that has characterized previous America's campaigns by planning far beyond. Their new base in Portsmouth harbor, overlooking the Royal Navy dockyards and historic ships, has been built to last as a local landmark. Rather than bringing together a collection of people for a specific campaign and then disbanding, Ainslie has a long-term vision that also aims to help regenerate the area and develop budding marine engineers. "There's an opportunity to actually have a sustainable business and develop technology and IP and capability and go from one campaign to another," Whitmarsh told Reuters, likening the building to McLaren's Norman Foster-designed Woking headquarters. "Obviously we hope to go out and win, we don't underestimate the challenge of going out to win. But whatever happens we want this (building) to be a real statement of intent. "We haven't built this to go to Bermuda in 2017. We have built this to create a business that's going to grow and develop." (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman)