The Covid Cup continuum is enacted. Racing is cancelled for next weekend and it’s hurry up and wait for the two teams left to decide yachting’s greatest prize after a 21 year old went out and about whilst awaiting a test result, causing the whole of Auckland to be shut down for seven days. Five hour queues were experienced on the northern border as residents fled to the safety of desolation beyond the metropolis as public health officials wrestled to arrest the latest community outbreak. Fine margins of judgement and swift responses show just how serious New Zealand is about stopping the spread and the result is an understandable schedule blow for Cup fans around the world eager to seek answers to questions that inhabit the racing vacuum.
The schedule of racing is clear as published in the Match Conditions with racing up to the 15th March but with an allowance for an extension to race every day up to the 21st March if, for whatever reason, a winner hasn’t emerged and the Challenger of Record will be keen to ensure that the schedule is adhered to. For Luna Rossa the four extra days gained could be vital. The development arc of these boats is so steep that a perception of being on the back-foot or behind in terms of outright pace could be bridged whilst for Team New Zealand the opportunity to refine their own dual helm system for the pre-starts could well prove to be the final piece of the jigsaw. Both teams will be keen to check-in and see where they are at as the world itches to know answers – the tension is building tighter than a string on Sergey Rachmaninov’s piano.
Meanwhile shoreside the airwaves are filled with wash-up videos from the team whose name is an anagram of ‘NOISE’ and it’s all rather desperate and uncertain, dependent on the whim and convincing of one man. On Tuesday the Mercedes F1 team, another in the sponsorship stable, unveil their latest weapon – the Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E-Performance and you can be pretty certain that it won’t be found lacking in pre-season testing at Barcelona in a few weeks time.
The sounds emanating from the Cup team are hard to read. In recent days it’s gone from ‘we will be back’ to ‘we hope we will be back’ to ‘it depends on what happens.’ The sports group’s communications director was clear that they wanted to see a levelling of the playing field and if that’s the stipulation before throwing the equivalent of a soccer summer transfer window at a four year campaign then the team may as well start seeking funding elsewhere or just concentrate on the Sail GP circuit.
The America’s Cup, with all its delicious idiosyncracies wrapped in New York Supreme Court history and judgement is unlikely to be changing any time soon. Perhaps the flattery of a Challenger of Record status is the best that can be hoped for and will secure the commitment – being inside the tent looking out is far better than being on the outside looking in.
If the decision is to go again with the petro-chemical dollars then, for sure, it will be a very different looking team next time around and barely recognisable from what has now largely departed Auckland on holiday or for the long trip home. Expect a lot of antipodean voices to be calling the shots and a more youthful, nimble management structure perhaps led by Ainslie in a figure-head role. In essence he is probably the safest as the gallows-door levers are pulled as contracts expire but most probably in a Max Sirena non-sailing role such is the rapid evolution of sports teams and the demands that the next generation of Cup boats will exert.
Looking at the cycling team within the same stable and you will see an influx of Columbians, Ecuadorians, Russians, Dutch, Polish, Spanish and Italians joining a coterie of up and coming and established British riders supporting two superstar winners of the Tour de France. There are no scared cows in professional sport. Everyone is expendable.
With Ernesto Bertarelli rumoured in the Italian media to be considering his options, the Americans running the rule over the current game and at least one far eastern team warming up to the possibility of running, we could be in for a very interesting few months as the dust settles on this cycle. And the persistent rumour of another British team emerging from some uber wealthy backers, awash with 2020’s stock market gains is gathering momentum back home.
All will be answered when Auckland gets the all-clear and drops down from Level 3 in a week’s time. It promises to be a fabulous battle on the water – the rumour-mill can wait until after 13 races to win the 36th America’s Cup. It’s just a waiting game now.