Ineos may have lost out to Luna Rossa in the Prada Cup final, but after a long, hard-fought campaign they still enjoyed a few drinks on Sunday night; ice boxes stacked with beer and rum providing well-earned refreshment to sailing and shore crew alike, everyone gathering underneath Britannia, sitting in her cradle in the boat shed. The team were given a day off on Monday to recover from what has been a frantic period on and off the water, with plenty of all-nighters pulled in the elusive search for extra boat speed. Some staff with young children out in New Zealand apparently did the pick-up and drop-off at Ponsonby Primary School for the first time since arriving in New Zealand six months ago.
Thoughts will turn to the future with a team meeting called where staff will be debriefed on plans; the pack-up of the boat, travel plans, a rough outline of how the land lies etc There is only so much Sir Ben Ainslie will be able to tell them, given we do not yet know who will hold the keys to the next edition of the America's Cup. Italy have earned the right to challenge New Zealand in the 36th Cup match, beginning on March 6. And the landscape may look very different for Ineos depending on who prevails.
What will Ainslie do now?
Ainslie, who has his wife Georgie and daughter Bellatrix with him out in Auckland, will stay in New Zealand until the Cup is over. Telegraph Sport understands the Ineos team principal will actually be in New Zealand until mid-April when he will travel - assuming Covid-19 doesn't intervene - to Bermuda for the first race of season two of SailGP. There, Ainslie will lock horns again with the man who has just got the better of him in the Prada Cup final, Luna Rossa's co-helm Jimmy Spithill, who is fronting a new US entry in SailGP this year (albeit they will be racing in foiling catamarans similar to those used in the last Cup cycle). He will also go up against the man he hoped to take on in next month's Cup match, Team New Zealand's Peter Burling.
Why stay on?
The reason for Ainslie staying out in New Zealand is twofold. Firstly, there is not much point returning to Lockdown Britain right away (most Ineos team members, certainly those with families out in Auckland with them, are likely to stay until the end of March, which is when their tickets home were originally booked for). Secondly, and more importantly, this is a crucial time in terms of the next Cup cycle. The lobbying and politicking over the next few weeks will be hugely important. Ineos are rumoured to be in pole position to be named as Challenger of Record for AC37 should New Zealand successfully defend their crown next month. That would be a massive boost as it would allow them to help shape the next set protocols, giving the British team a headstart on other challengers (Luna Rossa were Challenger of Record this time). If the Italians triumph next month, the situation is far less certain. There has been a lot of niggle between Ineos and Luna Rossa over the last few months.
Will Sir Jim Ratcliffe keep funding the team?
This is the £100million question. Ratcliffe and other senior Ineos executives, including fellow Ineos owner Andy Currie, are also believed to be staying out in New Zealand for a while. As is Chris Cecil-Wright, chairman of the working group set up to manage the communication and interaction between the sailing team, The Royal Yacht Squadron and Ineos. Ratcliffe, who ploughed £110million into this campaign, has already admitted that he is interested in staying on for another campaign. But he has also said that he wants to see certain changes if he is to recommit. Among Ratcliffe's demands: more stability - sticking with these foiling monohulls - more teams, lower entry costs, fewer legal spats, more action between Cups similar to the World Series tours held in the last cycle. In short, a more professional sport and a more sustainable commercial structure. Ratcliffe has even suggested a governing body. "The America's Cup should be the pinnacle of sailing and I think this new class of boat is the perfect model for the future," he said recently. "This formula is really exciting so I think if the America's Cup sticks with this, it's got a very exciting future. It needs to be, in my view, a level playing field. It isn't at the moment. There's too much advantage to the defender and the challenger of record." The next few weeks should be fascinating politically.
What about Mercedes F1?
That is likely to depend on Ratcliffe and Ineos staying on, the petrochemicals company now being a 33 per cent shareholder in the F1 team. But Mercedes F1 appear keen. Team principal Toto Wolff was adamant before the Prada Cup started that, whatever the outcome, continuity was important. "It took [Mercedes F1] a while to become the team we are today," Wolff told Telegraph Sport. "We were four years into the sport before we started to see some of the big trophies in our hands. And I think this project needs time. In sports, resource can do a lot - financial resource but more importantly the right people. But what you can't buy, or accelerate in sports, is time. This is why in Formula One you see larger organisations - Toyota, BMW, Honda - dropping out because they don't have the understanding that you simply can't accelerate the learning curve. If you're given the time to learn and the time to improve, eventually good people with good resources are going to stay on top for a long time."
What happens to the staff in the interim?
Most of Ineos's 100-strong staff are on four-year contracts, which is standard in the America's Cup. With no guarantees as to what the next Cup will look like, or who will fund Britain's challenge, some will leave and find other jobs. Others will be re-engaged. There is always a fair amount of turnover as teams apply their lessons; what worked and what didn't. Discussions will already be ongoing. Giles Scott, Ainslie's tactician and a key member of the afterguard, will be competing in his Finn dinghy in the Olympics in Japan this summer. Scott has a Finn out in New Zealand with him, and a training partner in Ineos grinder and fellow Finn sailor Ben Cornish. Scott is aiming to make his competitive return in the Finn Gold Cup in Portugal in May. Once the Olympics are over, he is almost certain to rejoin the team with his partnership with Ainslie - who said last year he wanted to helm for one more Cup cycle beyond this one - a key strength of Ineos's during the round robins particularly, when the wind was a bit more shifty. They will hope that whoever prevails in the Cup match, whoever backs their campaign, wherever it takes place, be that Sardinia or Auckland again, it will be 23rd time lucky for a British syndicate since the first race around the Isle of Wight in 1851.
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride.
• Don't forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America's Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.