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He could compartmentalise. If you meet him out of the car, he is a nice, ordinary, affable bloke. But I think he transitions when he gets into the car. He is a different personality. And Ben is exactly the same.  “Ben is a very different person on the shore to what he is out on the water. That’s quite intriguing. Because there are a lot of racing drivers who are always the same: they’re mean motherf**kers when they’re on terra firma, just as they are when they have their backside in a racing car. Everyone is different in their approach. “But in the white heat of competition, they have to be absolutely focused, determined. The real winners will do absolutely anything to win.” We ask Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history with four gold medals: what if he was the same animal with his team off the boat that he is on it?  “I might be thrown off a bridge,” he replies. “[But] it’s a different intensity you have in a team sport as opposed to an individual sport. You see it with many individual sportsmen. You have to temper your emotions to the team. That’s part of team sport; bringing individual talents together. The team is only as good as the sum of its parts.”  We speak to Ainslie and Whitmarsh at the final event of the America’s Cup World Series in Fukuoka, Japan. It’s the last of a series of regattas held in nine different destinations – from Portsmouth to the Far East via, among others, Gothenburg and Chicago. Ainslie’s team won the Japan series, and therefore take a two-point head-start into the 2017 America’s Cup Challenger Series, beginning in Bermuda in May. The winner of that will then take on holders Oracle in the 2017 America’s Cup, in the same waters, the following month.

Winning the bloody thing

Whitmarsh is clearly enjoying being part of a competitive operation again after a year away from Formula 1. He knows what it’s like to be in the business of winning. His task now is to apply that to claiming the world’s oldest international sporting trophy – originally awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight, won by the schooner America. “It’s been 166 years,” he says. “There is this fantastic trophy, produced by [London silversmiths] Garrard & Co, commissioned by Queen Victoria, and our sailing nation has never won the bloody thing. It really makes you think: ‘Shit!’  “It’s also an opportunity for me. What racing does for you in terms of the tempo, the adrenaline, the focus, it is like going to war. And it’s something you miss.” Ainslie has put his team together with the aim of making America’s Cup history. He personally got in touch with Whitmarsh.  “I’ve brought a complete ignorance of sailing,” says Whitmarsh. “I’m not a sailor. [But what I do have is] the experience of being in a team looking for all these

“Our sailing nation has never won the bloody thing. It really makes you think: ‘Shit!’” Martin Whitmarsh marginal gains [through] teamwork, processes, having a system that’s looking for incremental improvements. We all want the eureka breakthrough that’s going to give us the victory, but actually, in these well-developed technical sports, it’s about incremental gains. Unless you develop with the discipline, the focus, the rigour, the analysis tools that find and grab those small increments, then you don’t see them, you don’t harness them. “In F1, generally the quickest car wins. In America’s Cup, generally the quickest boat wins. There is a lot of technology in this. But you still have to take into account the psychology of these athletes, who have to get hold of these bits of technology and deliver the performance from them.” Broadly, the technology that Ainslie will take charge of in Bermuda is a state-ofthe-art catamaran with a solid aeroplane wing-like sail and sexy ‘go-faster’ hydrofoils to provide lift and speed. It is, like all his boats, called Rita. Why so? 

Mean machines: Whitmarsh with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren

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“I was a teenager and I was at an event with my parents,” Ainslie, who will turn 40 this weekend, explains. “We were in Tenerife, and my mum came across a local church whose patron saint was St Rita. She made a little prayer... The event went really well, so she said: ‘St Rita must be a lucky charm for you.’ This boat must be Rita number 25 or something. My mum is very proud of it. I’d hate to change the name – it would upset her greatly, I’m sure.”

Good buggers

Mrs Ainslie can already be rightly proud of her son. His Olympic successes aside, he has already lifted the America’s Cup – with the USA’s Team Oracle in 2013. He is also a knight of the British Empire. “I never make anyone call me ‘Sir’,” says Ainslie. “I always felt like it would be a good comeback at some point, if someone was being a little bit rude. It always seems like a bit of an age thing as well, doesn’t it? A gentleman in his 70s. You’d call him ‘sir’ out of respect.”  Sport is fortunate enough to be sat just behind Ainslie on his team’s catamaran in one of the practice races in Fukuoka. The ruthlessly orchestrated blur of co-ordinated effort from the crew is a sight to behold, the boats gunning along separated only by a matter of inches in some cases.  Among others to have joined Ainslie on board at different times are actor Mark Ruffalo, Welsh rugby international Leigh Halfpenny and All Black great Dan Carter. Is there an extent to which Ainslie’s team, like New Zealand rugby, encourages the guiding principle of being a ‘good bugger’?  “One of the first guys I employed was Jono [Macbeth], our sailing team manager,” says Ainslie. “He’s actually a Kiwi, funnily enough. He’s very much of that ilk: great integrity, strength of personality. We took our time picking the guys – we wanted the right skill set and personality. That’s important. Not just the sailing team, but everyone – the way people behave.” 

Profile for Sport Magazine

Issue 484  

The party's over - for Sport magazine, and for Leicester City. Their fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy tells us about life after the miracle,...

Issue 484  

The party's over - for Sport magazine, and for Leicester City. Their fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy tells us about life after the miracle,...

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