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In conversation with: Ernesto Bertarelli

Whatever the outcome, the 37th edition of the America’s Cup will go down in history as the one that saw Alinghi return to the scene, this time as a challenger. The announcement had been in the air for some time but the official announcement came at the end of 2021, 11 years after that edition in which the Swiss team competed against Oracle Team USA.

Ernesto Bertarelli of Switzerland and Hans Peter Steinacher of Austria and Alinghi Red Bull Racing seen during the press conference announcement to enter 37th Americas Cup in Geneva, Switzerland on December 14, 2021

Bertarelli’s presence in the America’s Cup has been expected for years and in itself is not news. But it is also thanks to him that the process of transformation has been set in motion, giving a significant boost to the competition. In my opinion, there is a subtle thread linking Alinghi 5, the 90-foot catamaran with which Bertarelli tried in vain to defend the America’s Cup in 2010, to today’s AC 75. It could be argued that foils were not yet on the horizon at that time, but the experience gained in that edition certainly broadened the boundaries of imagination, allowing the seed to be planted for the birth of a new generation of multihulls, the AC 72, the protagonists of the 2013 edition in San Francisco.

(R to L) Ernesto Bertarelli, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Brad Butterworth, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bryan Mettraux, Silvio Arrivabene, Pierre-Yves Jorand of Alinghi Red Bull Racing seen during the press conference announcing the entry to 37th Americas Cup in Geneva, Switzerland on December 14, 2021

And today, the Alinghi/Red Bull Racing partnership looks promising, not least because of their triumph at the last Formula One World Championship. But Bertarelli has not been idle before entering the America’s Cup arena again. On the contrary, as he tells us in this exclusive interview, not only did he continue racing but he even created the TF35s, a class of latest-generation foil catamarans. Yes, because performance is one of the cornerstones of Bertarelli’s vision of sailing.  

(R to L) Ernesto Bertarelli of Switzerland and Hans Peter Steinacher of Austria and Alinghi Red Bull Racing seen during the press conference announcing the entry to 37th Americas Cup in Geneva, Switzerland on December 14, 2021

Where did you get idea for the TF35 class?
It all sprang from the experience we had built up with the D35 (Decision 35 catamaran class, ed.’s note). After 16 years of racing those boats, it was time for a change. The arrival of foils accelerated that decision. So we got together with some friends who had already been racing the D35 and decided to go for something more advanced. I think we have achieved what we set out to do. The TF35 is compact with a manageable budget. It is also unique in terms of performance like the F50s and AC75s which even foil upwind. Results-wise, it also proved its worth by winning complex races with very light breezes like the Bol d’Or. 

From a design perspective, how did you develop the TF35 formula? 
The general concept is the result of our vision. Once the platform was defined, I decided to go to very highly skilled professionals, some of whom, like Luc du Bois and Dirk Kramers, had America’s Cup experience from the Alinghi days. 

The Alinghi TF35 foiling catamaran skippered by Ernesto Bertarelli, shown here in in action on the first final day of racing. The 20121 TF35 Trophy. Scarlino.Italy. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Does your involvement in sailing also extend to trying to get young people involved in the sport? 
I would say that has been a very natural process. After Alinghi’s victory in the America’s Cup, sailing became very popular in Switzerland. Now after over 20 years, Switzerland has a new generation of superb sailors, thanks in part to our involvement in competitive sailing. 

Ernesto Bertarell. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Do you feel the arrival of foils is playing a central role in piquing the interest of the younger generations? 
Without a doubt, Anyone under 30 is now looking to foils. It couldn’t really have been any other way. They grew up sailing Moths rather than Lasers. Once you have experienced the feeling of sailing on a foiling boat, it is hard to go back. They are beginning to dominate. 

The Alinghi TF35 foiling catamaran skippered by Ernesto Bertarelli, shown here in in action on the first final day of racing. The 20121 TF35 Trophy. Scarlino.Italy. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

The 2024 Paris Olympics, for instance, will bring the debut of the iqFoils (foiling windsurf boards). What do you think of this? 
Very simple. It’s a one-way street. The performances are unique. Speed is a pivotal factor always: that applies to sailing and other sports. Just look at the progress there has been of late in skiing to make it even more exhilarating in terms of performance. My son wanted to try out the foiling windsurf boards the second he had a chance. They deliver unparalleled emotions: an adrenaline-fuelled experience with not just speed playing a central role – you also get the experience of flying. 

Ernesto Bertarell. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

What were you most struck by in the AC75s?
I liked virtually everything about the last edition. I have to admit I was wrong about the class at the outset. Contrary to what I thought, they proved very competitive and the racing was really exciting. The only issue perhaps was that there wasn’t enough time to fully appreciate them.

 

Ernesto Bertarell. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

You were the first to turn the America’s Cup into a sporting event capable of grabbing the public’s attention. The Valencia editions are still a fine example of that. So would it be possible to bring the America’s Cup back to that level? 
Certainly. In fact, as much as possible has to be done to hold the public’s attention between one edition and the next. Aside from media-related benefits, the other significant aspect is that a racing circuit between Cups helps teams grow their competitiveness. The Valencia editions were memorable in terms of the audience because they were so close-fought. I don’t understand why Luna Rossa isn’t pushing things to get back on the water. They were only at a small disadvantage in terms of speed compared the Kiwis which I am convinced they could bridge if they kept training. 

The Alinghi TF35 foiling catamaran skippered by Ernesto Bertarelli. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

From the T35s to the AC75s: if you want to win a high level race today, do you need to take many other aspects into account aside from the quality of the crew? 
Sailing has evolved so fast that the boats themselves have become more complex to handle and steer. Just like Formula 1 and Moto GP. Factors such as electronics, hydraulics, foiling control systems and the boat set-up more generally, all come into play. Then when you are on the water, the human factor is still pivotal but it is not the only one. Even the way the teams race has changed. The boats are much faster and, as a result, so are the decisions you have to take. It is a bit like comparing 1970s football games with today’s. They seem to be played at completely different speeds. And just like in modern football, we no longer just have the Regista (ed.’s note: a midfielder that sits back and controls the tempo and flow of the game) dictating the rules and making the difference. The most successful teams are the ones with the best resources in every department. Just as happens aboard. And this makes the game much more interesting. 

Ernesto Bertarelli. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Speaking of time, how do you perceive it when you are racing? 
Time is everything. If you aren’t focused on the chronometer at the start, you can really comprise the result. But when I am actually racing, I go into another dimension that means I step out of time. Speed, concentration, adrenaline and emotions all expand your perception endlessly. 

Ernesto Bertarelli. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

What was your sweetest victory? 
The very last race at Valencia in 2007 against New Zealand. It is still a unique and unforgettable moment in time. 

The Alinghi TF35 foiling catamaran skippered by Ernesto Bertarelli. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

What is your favourite seafaring memory or experience?
There are so many, to be honest. For the last 20 years, I have been spending at least three months at sea. I can’t live without it. Even now, if I stop to think about it, the memories of my experience Papua New Guinea come flooding back – we didn’t see as much as another boat there for an entire month. And then the three weeks I spent in Antarctica when I saw at first-hand how many shades of blue there are in nature. 

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