It would not be the America's Cup without a whiff of controversy and bad blood and the contest between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa is now simmering after Ben Ainslie hit out at the Italian team for refusing to allow this weekend's Prada Cup action to be pushed back due to a local outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland.
The four-time Olympic champion, whose team trail Luna Rossa 4-0 in the first-to-seven series to determine who faces New Zealand in next month's America's Cup match, described the Italians' behaviour as "lacking in perspective", adding that some of their comments were "Machiavellian".
This is a row which has built up over time and it predates this latest spat. Ainslie accused Luna Rossa of "gamesmanship" over their successful protest against an irregularity on his boat Britannia during the round robins last month. But his latest words are sure to add a bit of spice to a Prada Cup final which, after much wrangling, resumes on Saturday afternoon.
The Italians insisted that racing should continue as soon as possible once Auckland dropped from a Level Three lockdown to Level Two overnight on Thursday. That was despite the America's Cup Event authority wanting to delay by as much as a week to give Auckland time to drop back to Level One, which would have allowed fans back into the race village.
As Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa have a right of veto over changes to the protocols. They argued that the rules could not be changed at this stage, that everyone had signed up to them, and that racing had to be completed by a strict time or else the challenger with the most points would go through.
Additionally, they said pushing back the Prada Cup would have meant less time for the winner to prepare for the America's Cup match, which is due to start on March 6.
Ainslie, whose team were not consulted over the decision, was unimpressed.
"I just think the whole thing's lacking a bit of perspective," he said ahead of the resumption of racing on Saturday.
"You think about what's going on in the world; what New Zealand have done in terms of opening up for the event and hosting us all. They have done a fantastic job in hosting us in the first place. It makes sense that the public and the spectators and stakeholders can share in it."
Ainslie added that Luna Rossa's argument that the winner would have less time to prepare for the Cup was disingenuous as defenders Team New Zealand were happy for the Cup to be pushed back by a week. He also pointed out Luna Rossa have been happy to tweak rules when it suited them to do so.
"They've changed the rule on the [upper] wind limit," he told Telegraph Sport. "They conveniently took the 15-minute delay card away from the Americans when they were vulnerable after having sunk their boat [in the round robins] – and then stuck it back in as soon as the Americans were eliminated.
"All these Machiavellian comments coming out [now]. It's just classic. As I say, it's lacking perspective."
Ainslie said the fact that light winds have been forecast for this weekend – Luna Rossa are known to have the faster boat in light airs – was no doubt "part of" the Italians' thinking. But he insisted he was still confident that his team – who have doing eight-hour practice sessions on the water – could turn it around.
"It's not going to be easy. But yeah, we can turn this around for sure. It's obvious we've got to start winning some races. We've got to win the starts. If you're able to do that and then make the right decisions on where the best wind is on the course, then we can stay ahead."
Can Ineos turn it around?
Ainslie has made a career of escaping Houdini-like from seemingly hopeless positions. In 2004 in Athens, he lay 19th after the first day of the Olympic regatta having been disqualified in race two. He went on to win gold.
In 2012, on home waters, Ainslie did not manage to beat surprise leader Jonas Hogh-Christensen in any of the first six races before turning things around to claim his fourth straight Olympic gold.
One year later, Ainslie joined Oracle Team USA midway through the 34th Cup match, helping them to overturn an 8-1 deficit and triumph 9-8, a feat described by many as the greatest comeback in sport.
But this is different. Ainslie is not on his own in a fleet of dinghies, able to impose his fierce will on his rivals.
Ineos were clearly slower than Luna Rossa last weekend, both in upwind speed and in manoeuvres. And, as Ainslie admits, they have not been able to do much to Britannia in the interim as they have to stick to the boat configurations declared to the measurers last Monday.
"It's just really time on the water, working on technique," Ainslie said when asked what Ineos could do to improve performance ahead of the weekend, adding that they spent eight hours practising on the Hauraki Gulf Wednesday and would be back for more on Thursday and Friday.
In particular, Ainslie said the team were focused on their tacking technique, a complex procedure involving "the sequencing of changing of the load between the boards, the mainsail and headsail transfer, the rate of turn..."
And on their starts, of course. Ineos lost three out of four starts last weekend, and drew the other one. Ainslie said much work had been done this week with sailing coach Rob Wilson.
"A lot of it is pre-planned," he said. "You see the Italians have a very clear strategy. They stick to it race after race. And both teams are getting quite good at figuring out each other's plays. I think it'll be really fascinating these next races to see whether those strategies change, or they stay the same. Obviously, it's nailing that strategy, and then split-second timing is really what makes a difference."
Ainslie admitted that the light winds forecast for this weekend were unlikely to help Ineos (and undoubtedly played a part in Luna Rossa's insistence that racing went ahead as scheduled).
But he said that despite all that, and despite the fact that the potentially shiftier and therefore more helpful B and C race courses would not be used for racing this weekend to mitigate the chance of large public gatherings on shore, he still believed Ineos could turn things around.
"We just have to keep focusing on ourselves," he concluded. "We've tried to stay level-headed throughout. One minute we couldn't get around the course and everyone wrote us off. Then we went through the round robins unbeaten and we were going to win the America's Cup. And now we're 4-0 down in the challenger finals and people are knocking us again. All we can do as a team is try to do the best job we can, stick to our processes and go out and win one race as a time.
"It's sport," he added of the do-or-die mentality. "That's why we like competing, because you like to be in these moments. I'd rather be 4-0 up, I'm not gonna lie. But that's the challenge. I have every confidence that as a team we can come through it."