By James Toney
Sir Ben Ainslie admits his British crew have adopted a ‘siege mentality' as they prepare to start their America's Cup campaign in New Zealand.
Ainslie's Team Ineos were well off the pace in the America's Cup World Series, their boat Britannia doing the very opposite of ruling the waves as crews from around the world gathered for the 36th edition of the world's oldest international sporting trophy.
America's Cup sailing was famously compared to standing in a shower while tearing up fifty dollar bills - and that's small change to Ainslie, who has spent £110m preparing his flying boat for this challenge half a world away.
But losing every race in the pre-Christmas warm-up regatta was not part of the script for a man whose famous attention to detail saw him secure four Olympic gold medals.
His British crew face rivals from the USA and Italy in this month's Prada Cup, with the winner progressing to take on defending champions, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the America's Cup, with Ainslie desperate to end the 170 year wait for a British winner.
"You hear a lot about siege mentality in sport, it is something I have experienced before in the America's Cup," said Ainslie, who played a key role in Oracle Team USA's famous win in 2013.
"I have got that feeling about this team. As frustrating as the World Series was it was a hugely important event for us as a team because it highlighted our deficiencies in performance and gave us no option but to look hard at our issues and rectify them.
We could not have done more to resolve the issues we had, we are up for the fight and we are looking forward to trying to prove what our boat and team are really capable of.
"The World Series in December was a tough period. We knew we had some issues going into the series and they were magnified in the races. We were underperforming and clearly way off the pace compared to our competitors.
"That puts a lot of pressure on the team but in situations like that, which many of us have been through before, you can either stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away or you can be honest with yourselves about what is going on and you can work incredibly hard to sort it out. Our team has certainly taken the latter approach."
— INEOS TEAM UK (@INEOSTEAMUK) January 8, 2021
This is Ainslie's third personal bid for the ‘Auld Mug', a challenge that has has become an obsession for a sportsman whose competitiveness and laser-like focus is legendary.
In 2007 he launched Team Origin with London 2012 deputy chairman Sir Keith Mills but rule changes forced them to scrap their bid for the 2013 edition.
After joining the USA team for that regatta, he returned for the 2017 America's Cup under the burgee of the famous Royal Yacht Squadron, though his boat was eliminated by eventual winners New Zealand in the semi-finals in Bermuda.
Only three boats will line up in the Challenger Series this year, a best-of-13 regatta that organisers hope will showcase close quarter racing, with boats flying through the water on foils.
Ainslie's challenge, which is backed by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s billion, starts with races against both rivals on January 15th and he knows it is win or bust in the weeks ahead.
When Queen Victoria watched the first race off the coast of the Isle of Wight in 1851 she was reported to have asked who was second, only to be told "Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second."
"We have our work cut out but we have set the tone in the team and know that if we can work through our issues objectively in the timeframe that we have we can be competitive and put up a real fight," Ainslie told ineosteamuk.com.
"In this game the development never stops. We will be developing and modifying throughout the competition. You have to keep progressing through the rounds if you are going to ultimately win in the end. That has always been our objective and still is."