In the build-up to the Louis Vuitton Cup there has been much controversy with the Oracle team's heavy appetite for skippers. First nominated was Ellison's long term helm Chris Dickson, who for some time has driven Ellison's maxi Sayonara.
When Dickson was sidelined it was the turn of America's Cup veteran Paul Cayard to step into the breach. But in the case of Oracle it was more a case of stepping into the firing line as Cayard too was put out to rest - still contracted up to the hilt to the team, unable to sail for anyone else, but nonetheless not on the boat.
With Oracle's poor performance in the first round robins, followed by yesterday's disastrous defeat by Prada - albeit in no small part due to the weather gods - syndicate head Larry Ellison has clearly felt that it is time to roll the dice again making a further change in his team's afterguard. This is despite helmsman Peter Holmberg, the current no.1 ranked match racer in the world, showing little in the way of errors in the round robin racing so far.
So for today's racing Chris Dickson has been brought in from the bench to replace Holmberg for what should be the relatively easy match against underdogs Mascalzone Latino. Holmberg is not on board. Ellison, John Cutler, Ian Burns and Tommaso Chieffi now comprise Oracle's afterguard.
Remarkably Dickson's role will be more far reaching than just driving the boat. The campaign have said that his role will also include managing the sailing team and the performance development of Oracle's two Farr-designed ACC boats.
Dickson has considerable AC experience driving New Zealand Challenge in Fremantle, Nippon in 1992 and TAG Heuer in 1995 and is a three time world match racing champion. His first time on one of Oracle new generation ACC boats came yesterday when he skippered their trail horse USA-71.
In an amusing note at the bottom of Oracle's media release it states:
"It appears that Oracle BMW Racing is undergoing similar personnel changes to Prada" (ie: the firing of Chief Designer Doug Petersen) to which Oracle's response is: "This is nothing like the personnel changes adopted by Prada. Oracle BMW Racing is bringing talented and experienced personnel into the sailing team to boost team performance, whereas 'Prada' has eliminated their talented personnel."
Syndicate head Larry Ellison underwent a live grilling at today's post race press conference over his skipper swop. "We had a good start in round one but a rough finish. Then we had five races and only one victory against Victory Challenge when their halyard broke. I thought it was important to have the chance to improve the team. I don't think we're considering lots of changes."
Most believe that the issue with Oracle is not the skipper - Peter Holmberg has all the credentials and the talents - but the unusual Farr design that is unique in this fleet for being lighter and having less sail area. Ellison refuted this: "I think we have great boat speed and we can always make the boat faster. We have tried some new things and other people have made improvements too - and that's what we expected."
Ellison quashed a rumour that it was the Farr office who prompted the skipper change. "I was the person who made that decision. Peter Holmberg is the best starter. Peter has been doing a brilliant job starting the boat. But we were getting great starts and losing." Ellison says it is possible that Holmberg could be back as starting helmsman, but now it is Dickson's call. "I picked Chris Dickson as the skipper and I don't know a more talented sailor in the world."
The main issue Ellison eluded to for the reason for the change was one of communication within the afterguard. "Communication was better today and I wasn't the only one who thought so."