Team NZ-Luna Rossa friendship goes head-to-toe

Emirates Team New Zealand's relationship with Luna Rossa has been described as an America's Cup 'duopoly' - but the syndicates say there's a fair division between them, reports Suzanne McFadden

Grant Dalton calls him one of the smartest brains in the sailing world. And yet Marco Piccinini, the man from Monaco who helped formulate the protocol for the 2021 America’s Cup, says he’s still learning the nuances of yachting.

He’s much more at home at the motor-racing track, where he’s been a kingpin of Formula One racing for four decades.

“I’m involved with sailing as a family friend of Patrizio,” Piccinini says. Patrizio, as in Bertelli, the CEO of fashion powerhouse Prada, and the head of Cup challenger Luna Rossa.

“I like to sail but I’m not a professional. Of course, it’s always good sometimes to change experiences.”

Yet the last thing Piccinini wants to do is to change the America’s Cup into Formula One.

The former boss of the most successful Formula One team, Ferrari, certainly holds clout in the realm of the America’s Cup. Over the last four months, Piccinini has had Dalton and Emirates Team New Zealand’s legal and rules advisor, Russell Green, flying to his home in Monaco to nut out the rules of the next Cup regatta.

A banker and former Minister of Finance for Monaco, Piccinini’s role was to represent the wants of Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record. And he’s proud of the final product, a 67-page document known as the Protocol of the XXXVI America’s Cup.

“Motor racing is a sport based on a championship format; the America’s Cup is a challenge between two teams. One should never forget that."

Marco Piccinini

Unlike Bertelli, who doesn’t speak English, the language fluidly rolls off Piccinini’s tongue. At the release of the protocol in Auckland, Piccinini was quick to point out that the Kiwis and Italians were intentionally steering the world’s oldest sporting trophy away from an intersection with Formula One.

“I’ve heard a lot of people, especially protagonists in the last America’s Cup, say: ‘We are going to make it like Formula One’. That is complete nonsense. It can’t be done and it shouldn’t be done,” he says.

“Motor racing is a sport based on a championship format; the America’s Cup is a challenge between two teams. One should never forget that. I was 10 years the deputy president of the FIA, the governing body of world motorsport, so I know the difference between the two. Why should we try to imitate anyone else? This is the charm which makes the America’s Cup unique.”

This Cup, he says, is “back to the future - back to what the America’s Cup should be, where the two parties running the event are independent. And of course to the future, with a boat and an event containing elements which will be good for the future of sailing.”

The Team NZ-Luna Rossa friendship, which stretches back to the dawn of this millennium, is highlighted over and over by the two players. When Bertelli pulled out of the last Cup, he shared technology, knowledge and some team members with the victorious Team NZ camp.

As the Team NZ heads lined-up on stage at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron last week, they all wore Prada shoes.

Team New Zealand - support by Emirates, shoes by Prada. Photo: Getty Images

It’s not surprising some of their rivals may not see this bromance as beneficial to their own causes.

“It’s almost like a duopoly really, isn’t it?” Sir Ben Ainslie, head of the BAR challenge, told the New York Times after the protocol came out. He sees the six-month wait for the AC75 class rule to be published as giving the Kiwis and Italians a head-start in the design race. But, he concedes, that is the defender’s prerogative as holders of the trophy.

Piccinini, meanwhile, stresses there is a “good division” between the roles of Luna Rossa, who run the challenger series, and Team NZ who control the America’s Cup – a hierarchy which harks back to the 2003 Cup, when Dalton was first involved.

“They are not the dominant defender that we have seen in recent times,” he says.

“And we are the Challenger of Record with a better character - we are not easy-going, and we will defend our point. But we will also try to reason and come to the good conclusion.”

Marco Piccinini (right) with Patrick Tambay during a Formula One event in the Netherlands in 1983. Photo: Getty Images

Piccinini and Green drafted this protocol document together. A fortnight ago, they spent a week settling the finer details in Piccinini’s Monaco office. They first worked together in 2000, writing the protocol for the 2003 America’s Cup, the last sailed in Auckland.

That original document formed the basis of the 2021 version. They also included what they agreed was the best from the Bermuda protocol – like most of the commercial clauses at the back of the document.

“There was no undue pressure from Italy.”

Russell Green

It was clear even before the latest protocol was revealed that Bertelli had his own list of desires. One was that the class of boat revert to monohulls, or he would not re-enter the game. The 75ft single hulled yacht has satisfied his ultimatum.

“The experience of the catamaran is important, but we can take what was good from it, and translate it into a monohull. That is also a way the sport can advance,” Piccinini says.

So did the Italians get everything they wanted in the agreement? “Never, no,” he says with a chuckle. “But I will say there’s never been any point which has been really contentious. All the points are there; just the way of drafting and presenting them, required a bit of homework.”

Team NZ, on the other hand, got all they wanted, says Green, who’s advised Team NZ on the rules since 1995.

“There were things we were very strong about, and I can’t think of a single thing that we wanted in the document that they didn’t agree to. With Marco’s experience with Formula One and Ferrari, he’s a very wise man. He took on board our ideas, and where he wouldn’t necessarily agree with the wording, he would come up with good reasons to do it slightly differently,” Green says.

“There was no undue pressure from Italy.”

Forging the agreement has been a long, and sometimes windy road, Green admits. It began back in May: “I had a meeting with the Italians that none of the team knew about, because the protocol obviously needs to be in place when you cross the finish-line, and it’s not a one day job.

"We’re negotiating with friends. If you don’t agree on something, it doesn’t turn into war."

Grant Dalton

“I laugh because if you’re the rules advisor or the lawyer for an America’s Cup team, and you don’t succeed, you’re the first person they don’t need. But if you win it, you’re the first team member they need.

“There’s a mutual trust between the two syndicates that overcomes any cultural differences. I remember Bertelli saying something in Italian and when it got translated it was: ‘I don’t know why, but I trust you Dalton’,” he says.

For Dalton, the feeling for Bertelli is mutual. “He’s a bloody good guy. He gets a bad rap, but he’s funny as hell. We get on really well together,” he says, despite the obvious language barrier.

“We aren’t enemies - we’re negotiating with friends. If you don’t agree on something, it doesn’t turn into war,” he says. “That’s the difference this time - it’s not a document dictated by one party.”

But neither side is naïve enough not to know that if they meet on the Hauraki Gulf in the summer of 2021, as challenger versus defender, the gloves (from the finest Italian silk, of course) will be off.

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