From F1 to America’s Cup: An evening with Martin Whitmarsh and Sir Ben Ainslie
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Jan 2016   |  6:50 pm GMT  |  41 comments

Last night I went to a dinner in London hosted by Ben Ainslie Racing and its sponsor Land Rover, a first chance in a while to meet up with former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh and to meet Sir Ben, Britain’s greatest sailor.

The interest for me was to find out how much F1 technology and know-how is going into the UK’s America’s Cup boat and team. Four time Olympic gold medallist Ainslie is a big fan of F1 and motor sport in general. He was a passenger in last year’s Race of Champions event at London’s Olympic Park with the eventual ROC champion Sebastian Vettel.

Ben Ainslie

He met Whitmarsh through David Richards, whose Prodrive engineering company produces a lot of the control systems on the boat. After Whitmarsh was ousted by Ron Dennis as McLaren boss, he became CEO of Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) and heads the Portsmouth based operation, which has a budget of £80 million to try to win the America’s Cup back from the US team Oracle next year. Ironically Ainslie was the skipper of the Oracle boat last time when it won the Cup, now he’s trying to beat his old boss Larry Ellison.

America’s Cup boats are to sailing boats what F1 cars are to road going saloons. They are catamarans, but sail on only the tips of the hydrofoils and only go quickly when they are in a state the sailors call ‘flying’.

Ben Ainslie Racing

This can go wrong, as the photo above shows.

The crew is made up of six sailors, four of them winching and powering the hydraulics, one doing tactics and the other steering. The sail is rigid and is called a ‘wing’ it is 71 ft high and is basically the engine of the boat, providing the power to make the boat travel at speeds of over 50mph.

Like F1 cars, the boats are constantly being developed, but there is no equivalent of the FIA; the rules are made by the cup holders and it is a winner takes all event. If Ainslie and Whitmarsh win the cup, then they will have the commercial rights to the next event, the right to sell host venue for a fee and all rights to commercialise the cup.

I asked about Adrian Newey and his involvement. It seems that Newey has dipped in and out of the project, when his Red Bull Racing F1 commitments permit. He’s added a lot of value with his inputs, apparently, but Red Bull’s problems in 2015 meant that he couldn’t give as much time as the team would have liked.

Land Rover BAR

Meanwhile one of Lewis Hamilton’s former McLaren engineers, Richard Hopkirk, has joined the Ainslie team as Head of Systems and Analysis and brings F1 expertise. Hopkirk (above) worked with Hamilton as the voice in his ear from 2007 for three seasons, including his title year 2008. There is a lot of common ground on aerodynamics, hydraulic systems, data capture and processing, telemetry, communication systems and electronics. They also use CFD and similar simulation tools to F1.

“In the past we tried to do a lot of this in house and we lost a huge amount of time because the systems didn’t work properly, so we couldn’t test the boat,” said Ainslie. “I felt we needed to outsource a lot of this and get expertise we don’t have in the marine industry. So we turned to the automotive industry and I got to know David Richards at Prodrive. He has been very supportive of the project. David suggested Martin to take some of the burden off me.

“The boat has to lift out of the water and then it’s about the aerodynamics and control systems and how we control the dagger boards which lift us out of the water and the wing that produces the power. Now looking at other teams I can see them branching out to other industries to get support.”

Ainslie cuts an impressive figure, slight and athletic, he has the intense gaze of a champion sportsman, but with a refreshing humility.

This year the team is building up to the main challenge of the America’s Cup with events in the US, Japan, France and the UK. The final boat will be launched on December 27th in Bermuda, where the final America’s cup races will take place.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 17.44.28

Whitmarsh is thoroughly enjoying the new challenge. He says is in no hurry to step back into F1 to offer comment on the current situation in the sport, particularly the problems for his old team, despite offers from both SKY and Channel 4. He has been asked by other F1 teams about his availability but has no desire to race against his old team McLaren.

If he wins the America’s Cup with Ainslie, who is already Sir Ben, he may well find himself getting a knighthood, before his old boss Ron Dennis, but for now he’s focussed on giving Ainslie the boat and the team to win the Cup and on executing a perfect campaign.

We’ve been invited to go down to Portsmouth soon to investigate the project further.

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I thought the skipper of Oracle was an Aussie named Jimmy Spithill????


Good point Axel. Whilst I am an Aussie I think the spirit and intent of the Americas cup has been lost for a few events now. It was originally a race of nations, but now the only part that the US takes in Oracle USA is the ownership and maybe one trimmer. The engine room comprised of Aussies and a Brit (Mr Ainslie). I didn’t cheers for the kiwis in the last event – sorry I just can’t and now I find myself hoping that if the Brits hold to a complete Brit crew then I hope they win – I think.


Exactly what I was saying.


Here’s another proof your website is such a good one. You manage to find interesting stories when not much is going on (besides high stress levels in the factories).

On top of that, I’m now curious to find out more about the Cup. Thank you James!


James, Sir Ben Ainslie was NOT the skipper on the Team Oracle USA boat at the last America’s Cup. He was the tactician.

“Ainslie was put in as tactician, a replacement for John Kostecki during an Oracle practice session on 11 September 2013.[14] On 12 September, the following day, he replaced Kostecki going into race six of the 2013 America’s Cup.[15] His Oracle Team USA beat Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup decider in San Francisco on 25 September.” – Wikipedia (


You are correct, however, the tactician decides the strategy and overall control of the boat’s speed and crew work, since the skipper or helmsman is too busy “just” driving and needs full focus on that

Both have their own merit and duties, but in sailing, as opposed to F1, IMO the driver is less important than the tactical boss.

It is more of a real team work: ground crew designing and setting up boat, crew handling sails and manouvers, skipper driving and tactician coordinating and making final on board decisions

Great article James, Britain is long overdue in winning the Cup back, good luck this time, probably best chance to win since 1851



I truely understand what you mean, I believe Ainslie is the best sailor there is as well but that’s not my point. All I’m saying is that he was not the skipper of that boat as indicated by James. Could just be a typo or something else, I don’t know. Im simply pointing out what’s a known fact in the spirit of good and accurate journalism.


Ben sure deserves MUCH credit for helping to win the last cup. From the outside, it certainly appeared the racing was over, till Ben was brought aboard. And then they came back from a GREAT deficit. Kudos deserved. Wish the team best of luck, it would be great to see GB host the cup.


The lest Americas cup was just magic! The combination of insane technology, strategy, physical challenge, natural elements and of course supreme engineering was just the best. I loved how the skipper and strategist work in pair, I loved how the entire crew’s contribution was visible at every tack.

And the Youtube coverage, live commentary, build up, on screen technology should make Bernie regret dissing web broadcast.

F1 looks like a amateur sports in comparaison to it. And that was even before the AC72s. Basically, it is a demonstration of what happens when you embrace change, technology and look to the future.


@ more tech. very well said. AC racing is phenomenal to watch when fought out on a circuit/course like san franciso which had excellent viewing aspects. i raced yachts for many years, my own and a friends, and believe me it can be very exciting not only for the crew but also for the viewer especially now with the latest tech to bring you every wind shift!!!!

F1 is a poor cousin in the innovation stakes when compared to LMP1 & 2 and AC yachts.


All facetiousness aside . . .

I find America’s Cup more exciting to watch than current F1.

I hugely respect the technology and expertise which goes into both those sports but I’m tired of the organisational machinations and lopsided reward system which hobble F1 at present.

America’s Cup might be a ‘winner takes all’ game but at least the rules favour an innovative design approach for which the title ‘pinnacle’ is truly justified.


As an expat pom in NZ I have a slight identity crisis at sporting events like Rugby World cup and Americas Cup. So the rugby was resolved quite easily 🙂 but Id be happy to see Whitmarsh & Co triumph over the Ellison steamroller and hope they make it..


Sorry, forgot to add:

Interesting that they say Newey wasn’t as available because of Red Bull’s problems. Any insight into whether the post-Newey team is in a better place to do without him? That might also have informed their ‘give us an engine or we are leaving’ threat.


I wondered what happened to Whitmarsh, I always thought he was a great guy, open, seriously smart and looked after his people like a good boss should. Good luck to him.

Did you get any insight into the last America’s cup? Something seriously weird happened, the USA lost ALL the matches up until they were 1 from failure, and then won ALL the remaining matches. It was as if their had been some serious espionage and then an ‘upgrade’ to the American boat, it’s happened before… But no-one has ever said what happened. I guess sometimes money doesn’t talk.


“Something seriously weird happened, the USA lost ALL the matches up until they were 1 from failure, and then won ALL the remaining matches.”

To elaborate what James said. Oracle asked for a race postponement to allow them to make a few mods their boat. The kiwis naively let them, I expect as they had such a large lead they didnt think it would matter as they had faster boat speed and faster tacking.

The changes Oracle made in 24 hours made a huge difference to their overall speed, if you watch some in the 2nd and 3rd to last races they sail past the kiwis despite being behind and sailing through their bad air.

There was really nothing the kiwis could do at that point, every time they managed to out sail them at the start Oracle went straight past them when they caught up, bit like watching a Mercedes v RBR on a long straight for the last 2 years.

So well done to Oracle for their development and Ainslie for good timing. (he also made some great tactical calls) and big mistake for the kiwis for taking the foot off the accelerator before it was truly over.


There was one race when the kiwi’s were going to win and it would have given them the cup but they did not finish the race within the time allowed.


A little – it was to do with the foil under water and the way it was designed and operated.

Ainslie came on board at the same time as a bit design change was made and the tow things tipped the balance, also the Kiwis didn’t develop at the same rate

Like F1 it seems to be a development race to the finish!


James,pardon me for asking.Where is Luna Rosa?


Red moon, Italian the moon is called Luna & Rosa is red.!


Glad to see Martin still holds a fondness for McLaren – don’t suppose he’s grilling Adrian about Red Bull aerodynamics and feeding it back to…….. no, that’s naughty to think that

Tut tut


‘The rules are made by the cup holders and it is a winner takes all event ‘ why did reading this simple sentence make me suddenly want to watch the Americas Cup even though I literally couldn’t careless about ‘yachting’?


I think the only thing these machines have in common with ‘yachting’? … is water


Great stuff! I can wish them happy sailing, but of course want the Cup to stay with us Yanks????

By the way, one of the last of 12-meter Cup races, America 3 as I recall, used to reside at the North Cove Yacht Basin in downtown New York, not far from my old office. I never took a tour or went on any of the evening charters up and down the Hudson, but I used to to go down there just admire it, at rest and in action. It looks fast and IS fast (stunning to watch it on the move, just WOW). But compared to the current generation, there’s no comparison. Oracle itself turned up in the same waters for a couple of weeks and it was like watching an M-B W154 compared to the current Silver Arrows. The oldie wasn’t a laggard, but DAYUM. I can’t come up with enough adjectives to describe the speed and maneuverability of Oracle. “Stupefying” only begins to BEGIN approximating it.

And to think Sir Ben was probably at the helm.




@ rudy pyatt…. in my yachting days i met john bertrand a few times socially and some of the original crew were from my local yacht club, [royal prince alfred, newport] great guys and absolute legends. things have changed though and these new high tech machines are nothing short of ‘stupefying performance on and off the wind’. watching them race at full tilt on san francisco bay is fascinating for anyone who who enjoys man against the elements!!!! i think the cup may well finish up in the hands of the poms this next time around though.


Actually, it’s America II,

Alastair isherwood

If anyone watched the online coverage of the last America’s Cup it demonstrates just how poorly F1 is televised to the fans. Thanks James for diversefying your coverage to includ their campaign. A few articles on the technology and engineering would be really interesting.


the aerodynamic propulsion sail, newey and whitmarsh are the connection between f1 and the america’s cup. i get james has done with this story.

i have watched the online footage and i can’t see the connect between poor and f1.

you remind me of a nervous young man who using a toupee to disguise his bald patch, found himself in a passionate snogging embrace, on his first date , on the back row seat of the cinema. with eyes romantically closed, he was exploring the contours of his hot date when it suddenly dawned on him his toupee had parted company with his head. his exploratory intentions swiftly switched to finding furry friend toupee with his eyes firmly shut.

all of a sudden his hot date broke from the snog to say, “that’s it,” to which he responded, “mine hasn’t got a part in the middle.”


That comment caught me by surprise!


thought i’d cheer up some miserable f1 fans while they wait for the racing to start again..


Cigar you are smokinf I mean ????


Aveli ????????????????

Whatever Gogar youf smoking

Order me one too????


Weirdest comment I’ve ever read on this forum (that’s 7+ years)



Hilarious ! ! ! Especially when not expecting the ending on a foggy Saturday morning !


Agree! You’d think watching two sailboats race around a few buoys would be dull — especially compared to F1 — but the boats are incredible machines and the technology that the broadcasters use to show what is going on mechanically and strategically makes it fascinating, often exciting stuff.


Mark V. I could not agree more whilst I have been involved in international regattas myself the spectacle of yacht racing has never translated to those watching until the last Amercia’s cup. The coverage and technology in comparing the boats respective positions and speeds was absolutely brilliant. I was glued to the broadcasts on Youtube right throughout. Maybe not directly translatable to F1 but well worth exploring the concepts by the F1 broadcasters.

Aveli – I don’t know what you were attempting to achieve but you lost me.


He’s made some serious bucks on his way out of Mclaren.

Best of British to the Sailing team. Hope the beat the USA especially with an Olympic Champion Captain & Newey & Whitnash holding the Fort.


I agree he has made some serious coin……………….however I must say …the old mug, will stay…… in the USA 🙂


Come on the Poms !


@db4tim…i wouldn’t be so sure about that. australia lifted the trophy from under the nose of the americans and they were stunned!. this team is right on the money and i would be willing, ATM, to say that there is probably a 50/50 chance that the poms can upset the applecart.

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