Sir Ben Ainslie’s latest two defeats have been labelled a “Valentine’s Day massacre” with a “shambolic” performance leaving them 4-0 down and staring at elimination in the Prada Cup final.
From the yachting specific websites to Britain’s mainstream media, the performance of INEOS Team UK against Italy’s Luna Rossa in Auckland on Sunday was heavily criticised as their attempt to get into the America’s Cup final continue to falter.
“Captain Cook was killed on Valentine’s Day in 1779. Britain’s most famous explorer who first charted New Zealand was clubbed to death in knee-deep waters by a baying mob after capturing Hawaiian King Kalaniopuu. Not quite shallow waters but the protected inner course E was the scene of another massacre of the British as Prada, with all the pressure on them, performed on a stratospheric level to put Ineos Team UK to the sword and go 4-0 up in the Prada Cup Final,” the clever pen of British pundit Magnus Wheatley wrote on his Rule69 blog.
“There was no love lost between the two teams on this Valentine’s Day but it was a flawless performance from the Italians who were quite simply pitch-perfect all day. They sailed magnificently with more horsepower than a race-tuned Ferrari and sailed as cool as a Milanese fashionista.
“The Brits just couldn’t get in the game all day as mistakes and misjudgements crept into their performance. It was shambolic at times if truth be told.”
Wheatley said Sir Ben Ainslies would need to produce “the mother of all comebacks to turn this around”.
“Three more bullets and Prada is off to face the Kiwis in the Match. It’s within touching distance now, and they can smell a victory sweeter than a freshly-clipped red rose.
“This was a day to completely forget for Ineos Team UK, compounding a truly terrible opening weekend. Winning the series from here will be an almost impossible task. The boat doesn’t look up to scratch and the crew look like they know it. They were forcing their sailing but had nothing to play with, no advantage either upwind or down, that they could leverage off. It’s a desperate situation. You feel for them.”
Like everyone, Wheatley noted Ainslie’s knack of making incredible comebacks, but he sensed something different this time.
“He looks increasingly dejected, like he knows his number is up. And we’re starting to see a little hint of anger and a deep sense of frustration in the post-race interviews. This is a struggle. It’s a hard watch,” Wheatley wrote on Rule69.
“The writing is on the wall in letters that have just got a whole lot larger. Ineos is staring at a series defeat in this Prada Cup and they have it all on to avoid a pummelling. Four rounds are over and the scorecard doesn’t lie. Ben Ainslie is on the ropes taking a punishment beating. The towel is all but thrown in. How they are going to turn this around in the timescale is the question.”
INEOS Team UK’s America’s Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Britain’s Telegraph summed up the situation similarly with Ainslie “staring down the barrel of defeat”.
”Ineos made their lives exponentially harder by ceding the advantage off the start line. But the truth is Britannia also looks a click or two slower than the Italian boat at the moment, particularly upwind and certainly in lighter breezes. Ineos desperately need to find some extra performance from somewhere, and then they need to get their match racing heads on,” The Telegraph reported.
The yachting pundits felt the enforced three-day break that has postponed Wednesday’s races as New Zealand tries to contain its latest Covid crisis could help Ainslie.
”It is never over with Ainslie, of course. He has made a habit of producing heroic comebacks, not least as part of the Oracle team which came back from 8-1 down to beat New Zealand 9-8 in the 34th Cup in San Francisco. Spithill, who was helming that Oracle boat, will be hyper-aware of his battling qualities,” The Telegraph reported.
“And there is still plenty of time. But Ineos do need to find a smidgeon more performance over the next few days and then hope for some heavier, and perhaps shiftier conditions, which would play more to Ainslie and tactician Giles Scott’s strengths.”
The Times of London said it was “starting to look ominous” for Ainslie whose “aggressive approach produced costly errors” and he was now left “with a mountain to climb”.
Yahct Racing Life felt Ainslie had tried to turn Sunday’s opening race into “a full-on bar room brawl” in the prestart. But “the Italians had the British in a choke hold even before the boats had crossed the start line after a mistake by Ainslie handed control to Jimmy Spithill”.
Sunday’s second race quickly developed into “a carbon copy of the previous one … the Italians were in the driving seat leaving the British struggling to get free off their vice-like grip”.