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Deep Dive: Applied Science Engineer Tom Batch on Working with INEOS TEAM UK

Fresh off the plane from New Zealand, we caught up with Tom Batch, Principal Engineer for the team’s Applied Science division, to find out about his experience working with INEOS TEAM UK in their bid for the 36th America’s Cup!

Can you talk a little bit about your role within Applied Science?

Tom Batch: "My role is to be an engineering lead on projects that we are challenged to deliver to customers and partners through Applied Science. Within the tie-up with INEOS TEAM UK I was initially brought in to help them with reliability down at the base in Portsmouth and was then fortunate enough to go to Auckland for six months with the team which was a great opportunity.

"While I was out in New Zealand, my role evolved and became quite diverse, there were elements of planning and strategy, helping to improve engineering decision making processes and also involvement in the systems team which as with F1 is essential for the yacht to function."

How long has the collaboration been going on for and how did Mercedes F1 contribute to INEOS TEAM UK's America's Cup challenge?

TB: "It was over two years ago now that it really started to gather momentum. Our Director of Applied Science Graham Miller identified areas where we could offer ITUK access to resource that would accelerate development. That initially started with a handful of engineers heading to Portsmouth to provide direct support.

"It was all excellently managed by Graham, and our guys became integral parts of their respective groups. So, rather than being a satellite support operation they went in and bolstered the capability and expertise already within the team. Then obviously we bring the F1 engineering expertise, design standards, manufacturing know-how, connections in procurement, basically getting things moving along at F1 pace."

What specific elements of the Britannia boat was the Applied Science division focused on?

TB: "Primarily we helped with areas that were directly translatable from our F1 experience. Similar to below the bodywork of the car, much of the technical detail in an AC75 yacht is below deck and internal to the hydrodynamic surfaces. These include complex hydraulic systems, electronic architecture and data acquisition, the drivetrain powered by the grinders, flight and sail control systems. Many of these areas are converging on F1 levels of technology.

"Another significant contribution from Applied Science was the procurement, manufacture, build and structural validation of the 2nd and 3rd evolution of foil wings for this campaign, which was centred at our F1 facility in Brackley. Under the restrictions of lockdowns in the UK and a global pandemic the team there worked tirelessly to keep the programme on track and deliver the finished product to the other side the world for the guys to go and sail."

What similarities between an F1 team and a sailing team did you discover?

TB: "There are many similarities, the structure of the team is about as close as you can get to an F1 operation although different in scale. Ultimately, they are both highly technical team sports where every detail counts and the individuals within those teams are driven by their desire to win.

"The roles of the sailors are close to that of a Formula One driver, focused on their physical preparation and sporting performance and also with this link into the engineering side. So, they are helping the team to shape the development direction of the yacht and provide feedback on how they can go quicker, be that in the simulator or out on the water. The technical group skillset is also very close, mechanical designers, concept engineers, operations, performance analysts.

"This synergy between F1 and an AC team made it quite a natural fit for Applied Science because we have experience with a lot of the things they are trying to do. The introduction of new technology in the America's Cup has progressed at an almost exponential rate and a lot of the systems that were on the yacht this time around are relatively new to many of the guys that work in an America's Cup team.

"They are learning as they go, and a lot of the evolving concepts are areas that we've got experience in. They've tapped into that quite quickly and realised that we can jump them ahead using our knowledge base."

And what similarities or differences did you notice between professional sailors and racing drivers and how theyapproach their sport?

TB: "The dynamic is a bit different in that there is only the team element in the Cup, and you have no reference on the other side of the garage.

The sailing crew essentially live as a unit, spending time together in briefings, training and eating 3 meals a dayas a group, so they naturally become a very close-knit unit which is important. The drivers have that team focus but they desperately want to beat the other guy out on track so there is also that individual element.

"The capacity they need is pretty similar, there's a lot of information to absorb and process and the mental and physical preparation is equally important. In the same way that Lewis and Valtteri come back in at the end of a run, session or weekend and debrief into the engineering group as to what they need to go faster, the sailors have a key role in challenging the engineers to help drive the team forward. The sailors rely on technology and the underlying performance potential of the yacht in the same way the drivers jump in the car and need that package to have the opportunity to win.

"In sailing you have the complexity of 11 individuals with direct input into the yacht's performance. That's crazy. You've got someone turning the steering wheel, one on the throttle and brake, another choosing the modes, racing line, race strategy etc. and it's about all of those things being optimised to maximise performance.

"The other stand-out was Sir Ben's bandwidth. I found that quite inspiring, that he's able to operate across all aspects of the team function.

He's involved in the commercial side, shaping technical partnership's with Applied Science for example, involved in design direction and engineering strategy and then jumping onto the yacht as the focal point of that 11 man crew and setting the benchmark for the sporting side of the organisation. It's like Toto turning up ten minutes before P1 and jumping in the car.

"He's in the gym shedding pounds to make weight in the morning, in a sailing team meeting at 9am, then the design team meeting at 10am, a commercial meeting at 11am. His ability to spin all of those plates and then go out and perform at elite level on the water is incredible."

Was your secondment what you expected and are there stories or anecdotes that stand out from your time in New Zealand with INEOS TEAM UK?

TB: "I remember being told before heading out to Auckland that it would be 'good fun, full on but good fun' and it definitely delivered on both of those.

"I was trackside with F1 for seven years and the buzz of being in and around INEOS TEAM UK out in Auckland was reminiscent of that time. You've got that ethos that is unique to elite team sport I think where everyone is in it together with a common goal. You rely on the individuals around you to leave nothing on the table and you feel that same expectation to deliver which is what you get up in the morning for.

It lived up to everything I thought it would be. New Zealand is a great place, the Kiwis were fantastic hosts and they love their sailing which ramped up the atmosphere in the village nicely as the competition progressed.

"It was a tough time early on, specifically through December when it came to the Christmas Regatta where for the first time we measured up directly against our competition and the performance was a long way short of where it should have been. There was no dressing that up, it was pretty public, and it was a particularly hard moment for the team which needed a collective resolve to pull ourselves through that. There were some challenging moments through the New Year as the whole group worked to understand those issues.

"That is definitely the thing that stands out from the six months of being there - how the team didn't go under during that period. It was close to a four year cycle since AC35 and without World Series events there was all of this time to choose your design concepts and develop in the direction that you wanted to go but without any real performance reference in a new class of yacht. There was a weight of anticipation and expectation and then it abruptly becomes clear you are a long way off the others with a handful of weeks to put it right.

"The margins were big and if the team hadn't established an understanding of where the performance deficiencies where and corrected as much of that as possible really quickly, then the full campaign is screwed essentially. As a team they basically refused to go out like that.

"By the time the Prada Cup Semi Finals came around a month later in January the team won five from five and it was pretty cool to see that turnaround"

What's next for you within Applied Science now that you are back at the factory?

TB: "To be honest I'm not entirely sure what's next, that's the beauty of Applied Science. Now that I'm back in the UK I will be going into the factory in Brackley to see what projects we have and what our involvement in those projects is. I'm looking forward to it!"