Mercedes don’t do losing very well or very often. Their relentless drive for perfection in Formula 1, combined with the massive, undisputed talent of Lewis Hamilton (Sir Lewis very shortly) has delivered seven consecutive driver and constructor championships. The rest of the paddock just sits back in awe at their technical ability and if you follow their social media updates, they give detailed post-race analysis, win or lose. A couple of weekends ago in Bahrain they made a horlicks of a double-stack pit stop. They owned the mistake, fessed up, moved on, made improvements and this weekend, in the same situation, nailed it. Precision. Perfection. Brilliance. Wouldn’t it be great if the sailors did the same? A quick social media update direct to the audience saying what the breakdown was and what’s being done would work wonders and get ahead of the story. Instead the comms team are sticking to the boring old script and quite frankly need a rocket from above.
But aside from the communications disaster from which the sailors could learn so much from the F1 Team, the connection between Team Ineos and a new division at the car firm called ‘Mercedes-Benz Applied Science’ (MBAS) is perhaps, not to be overlooked. As they state: “The collaboration is founded on three core principles: a shared belief that no limits should be placed on what is possible in performance; a desire for the technical excellence and winning cultural attributes of each team (they sponsor the Ineos Grenadiers cycling team too) to be shared for the benefit of the three partners; and a belief that the best technical support enables great athletes to create the greatest racing moments.”
Judging by the current on-the-water evidence, we’re not seeing any benefit of the tie-up – least of all in the communications approach – but let’s be fair, we haven’t started proper racing yet and no-one is counting practice races. The Press Conference on Wednesday will be full of “this is a long game” etc etc…it’s not, it’s actually the end of the cycle but we’ll give the sailors the benefit of the doubt. What else can they say?
The Mercedes release goes on to say: “MBAS began working with INEOS TEAM UK, led by Great Britain’s most successful ever Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie, in August 2019. Currently a total of 18 engineers are dedicated to projects with the team aiming to win this unique sporting challenge…”
Okay so that’s four months and there’s 18 hairy-arsed Merc engineers and computer geeks who have been transferred to sailing when they really wanted to be on the F1 Team. Hold that thought. I’ve been diving around the internet and talking to well connected people today trying to find some consolation and answers to what’s going on with the team. And there’s little to settle my mind. One rumour that’s been propagated is that Team Ineos is receiving two big upgrades: one pre Christmas, one before the Challenger series starts. Rumour is that these are huge steps forward. Possibly even ‘revolutionary’. I’ll hang on to that, being the fanboy I am, as a crumb of hope. Rarely do we see breakthroughs. Rarely.
If true though, and the Cup is littered with shipwrecks on the shore of design breakthroughs, it would be phenomenal. Sense reasons that £120 million – Larry-esque largesse – doesn’t equal what we are seeing on the water right now. The Mercedes tie-up doesn’t lend itself to abject failure. It’s not good for the brand. The Silver Arrows would melt. They don’t do losing. My hope is that this is genius gamesmanship by a team that have been this way before, got burned in Bermuda and are determined to do it differently in Auckland.
Grant Simmer is no mug, Ben Ainslie neither. Perhaps this really is all to plan? I doubt it. And the public silence from the team and the wounded dog act when they get criticised is pointing in another direction. We have seen this so many times before with syndicates on the rack. It’s nothing new and all the classic warning signs are there. I am certain that the sailors would have wanted to race these warm-up races if, for nothing else, than simply to get into combat and tactics on the water. There’s no way they would want to be scuttling back to the base. That’s just insane. They are brilliant sailors operating on another planet to us mortals. Perhaps they are just going through a period of bad luck – after all in the five days before the practice races started their social media account triumphantly reported a completion of 230 tacks, 283 gybes and 197 bear aways. Or was that just another comms disaster? It all doesn’t stack up.
But I’ll leave the final word to Toto Wolff, the genius Team Principal in the Mercedes F1 Team who said: “The technological demands of Formula 1 mean we are well-placed to support with advanced technical challenges in specific areas of sailing and cycling, with a particular focus on aerodynamics and the manufacturing capability around key components.”
I’ll says that slowly: “Manufacturing…capability…around…key…components.” I wonder what’s coming next. Fascinating.