With an unassailable lead in the Louis Vuitton Cup Round Robins, Emirates Team New Zealand has earned the right to choose its path forward. The team can elect to advance directly to the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, or choose its opponent for the Semi Final, handing the bye to the Final to the third team. The Kiwis are expected to announce their intention tomorrow (Sunday).
Each option has its own risk and reward, as detailed below.
1. Emirates Team New Zealand chooses to go the Final, leaving Artemis Racing and Luna Rossa to race the Semi Final.
The Risk: In a sporting sense, this is the low risk option, but there may be another factor to consider (see bottom of story). As such this is the route most observers expect the Kiwis to take. The Emirates team avoids the risk of damaging its boat during Semi Final racing and being unable to advance.
The Reward: Direct access to the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, and one less step to take on the way to the America's Cup Match.
2. Emirates Team New Zealand chooses to face Artemis Racing in the Semi Final, leaving Luna Rossa to advance directly to the Final.
The Risk: With Artemis Racing just back on the water, the risk of the powerhouse Kiwis losing a Semi Final to the Swedish team is small, but not zero. Damage, injury, collision, etc. could all derail the Kiwi challenge BEFORE they even get to the America's Cup.
The Reward: From a sporting point of view, Emirates Team New Zealand gets some more race practise in. There is a political component too (see below).
3. Emirates Team New Zealand chooses to face Luna Rossa in the Semi Final, leaving Artemis Racing to advance directly to the Final.
The Risk: Same as for option 2.
The Reward: Hard to see one for this option so this is the least likely scenario. In terms of race practise, there is little to gain as they've already faced Luna Rossa and won decisively in the Round Robins. Emirates Team New Zealand has also had a symbiotic relationship with Luna Rossa, selling the Italians design info and then training together, so it's nearly impossible to imagine the Kiwis working against the Luna Rossa team in this way.
The political dimension
This is the America's Cup, so a decision like this is never entirely about the sport. There may be another consideration for Emirates Team New Zealand.
Artemis Racing is the current Challenger of Record. As soon as they are eliminated from the Louis Vuitton Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand assumes that position (the role gets passed along in order of challenge).
The Kiwis may see an advantage in assuming Challenger of Record status sooner rather than later. According to the Protocol, the Defender "and the Challenger of Record may amend (the) Protocol with the approval of a majority of the Competitor Forum."
That means changes need to have the blessing of a majority of competitors including BOTH the Defender and the CoR.
So, IF the Kiwis choose to advance to the Final and IF Artemis Racing were to beat Luna Rossa in the Semi Final, Emirates Team New Zealand may feel vulnerable to being unable to control any changes to the Protocol that Artemis Racing and ORACLE TEAM USA want to make. Once the Emirates team is the Challenger of Record, it has more control over any Protocol changes.
For all that, it would be a surprise to see Emirates Team New Zealand not choose to advance to the Final. The risk of racing in the Semi Final is likely too great.
Risk vs. reward. It's a hallmark across all aspects of the America's Cup. We'll see what the Kiwis decide, perhaps as soon as tomorrow (Sunday).
- Peter Rusch