Bertarelli Speaks, Part II

In the second part of /SW/'s interview with Alinghi's Ernesto Bertarelli, he speaks about his life outside the America's Cup, some of the innovations he hopes to bring to the new edition, and of course, the ongoing battle with BMW Oracle Racing and the Golden Gate YC.


Rick Maiman/ Alinghi

A week from now, Alinghi (and the Societe Nautique de Geneve) and BMW Oracle Racing (and the Golden Gate YC) will go before the judge in New York. The outcome of that court case will have a significant impact on the future of the America's Cup. In advance of that decision Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli did a quick tour of the United States, meeting with press and yacht club members in New York and San Francisco. Here is the second part of a interview done at the New York YC on Oct. 4 with Bertarelli, chief counsel Hamish Ross, helmsman Ed Baird, and Fred Meyer, vice commodore of the SNG. To see the first part, click here. For this portion of the interview, when anyone either than Bertarelli is speaking, the text is italicized.In your first campaign you benefited quite a bit from Russell's advice. Has his methodology changed? There is one thing that is consistent with Russell's approach. When he came to me in 2000, the first thing he wanted to do, he wanted to go to New York and sue Team New Zealand. I said, "Why do you want to go after Team New Zealand?" "Ah, because we have to go after the accounting of Team New Zealand. They have produced any accounts. They've taken money out of the Cup and we can destroy them by going to the attorney general and asking for the accounts."I said, "Look Russell, that's great, but we're not about accounting, we're about winning the Cup. So why don't we concentrate and entering and building a team." So that's what we did because there was no purpose [to a lawsuit]. Then [in 2004] I found out he didn't want to helm anymore for me, just wanted to take the money and be a manager, a leader, whatever. After a year of negotiation, he ended up telling me he would helm for me if I gave him the team at the end of Cup. At which point I said, "Look Russell, that's just not possible." He went to the attorney general and he complained. So we went in front of the attorney general when we were having the dispute on his employment agreement. I actually think that all this strategy-because it's not possible that you mount a legal strategy and a PR strategy in three days, which is the time it took them to go to SNG and drop off the challenge-was thought out before the protocol was issued and I really think that the engineer of this strategy is Russell. I've known him as a friend-our wives had babies in the same clinic few weeks apart. I think this strategy has been thought carefully and purposefully to win the America's Cup.By any means possible?Well, yeah. One aspect of the protocol that has particularly upset the traditionalists is having Alinghi sail in the challenger series. Your logic is understandable since you'll be prohibiting two-boat testing. However, it's also fraught with problems. If results against Alinghi count in the standings, then you'll play a role in determining which teams qualify for each subsequent round. If the results against Alinghi don't count, then why would any team sail hard against you and risk either breaking gear or revealing any of their secrets? There are really two options. We either go for two-boat testing or we don't. I think the most unfair situation would be where we would get the benefit of two-boat testing and the others would not. I think a two-boat test campaign with 90-footers, the only person who's interested in affording it on the planet is Larry Ellison. That's the reality of things. If you don't have two-boat testing and Alinghi is on it's own, not allowed to race against anyone else, how do we develop our boat?So how do we solve that? The only way to solve it is by being part of the regatta. That's the only way we will get the benefit of seeing, as they would, how their boat does against the competition. If we're eliminated, we lose the benefit of that, then we're really in trouble because then our boat is what it is. We have no opportunity to benchmark ourselves going forward.Racing against the defender in the challenger series is great for everybody. For the Chinese team, the smaller teams, to go to their sponsors and say, "Come and watch my race because I'm against Alinghi," is much better than to say, "Come and watch my race because I'm against XYZ." They're racing the defender and they'll only have that opportunity if we participate. The other thing, for the big teams, Team New Zealand didn't come racing [against Alinghi, during the Acts] because they liked the color of our eyes, they came racing because they want to learn something from it. Don't ask Ed, because he knows what I know, but ask anybody else outside, that understands sailing, they completely remodeled the shape of their sails and the way they trim their boat after they raced with us after a few years. So I think they learned more racing against us than they learned racing against anybody. The reason that the racing was so exciting in the 32nd America's Cup was because people raced before hand against us. The way you won traditionally was you had the fastest boat. You put it under your jacket until the next time around. You built another one, you were the only one who knew really how fast the old boat was, that's how the New Yotk YC maintained the Cup for 130 years, they never showed the competition how fast they were going. If we're in the competition and that's our only opportunity to improve, we're going to show what we have. This is the first time in history-no, I'm not sure that's true, modern history-that we tried to propose a one-boat campaign. I think it's the future of the America's Cup. Two-boat testing is tremendously expensive, and boring. You spend 75 percent of your time on the water not racing, but just going 10 minutes that way, 10 minutes the other way. Nobody sees that, but that's the reality of a Cup campaign. [In the 32nd America's Cup] We managed to expand the interest beyond the America's Cup and include the challenger series in the process. Now not only we're trying to do that, but we're trying to expand the interest to the testing, because the testing now is going to be racing. It's not going to be, "I go on my side; you go on your side." The only way to test is going to be everybody on the track, going around, and see who's fastest. Every Wednesday night we'll organize regattas, people can come out on the water and see who's in front, and who's not. You're going to be writing about the Wednesday night regatta, which is the only place where [each team] can see if they're faster or not. You'll see live, the progress of the team. Where as before, you didn't know where we were. Because everything we had we would keep secret.Ed, a great time to get your opinion. While most of the two-boat testing was in a straight line, some of it was match-racing practice. The result was some very refined racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup and the Cup match. Would a ban on two-boat testing prevent teams from realizing their full match racing potential, diminishing the quality of the racing?Ed Baird: It puts a great premium on visiting the World Match Racing Tour events. And puts a greater premium on, as Ernesto said, on having events in these boats where you can get the practice. Going back to your question about, defenders, challengers, how is it fair for all of us to be together. Basically, we're all in this together. It's a big festival; it's a big event. If one side or the other doesn't work well together, it's not going to be the greatest event. Ernesto Bertarelli: At this level if people don't know how to do a dial down, they're never going to know.Baird: That's one way to look at it for sure. But the other side is with the size of the equipment, the positioning and the timing, there's a lot going on. You need to have practice.Ernesto, You sold Serano within the last few years. How does one come to sell a family company? It seems like a very complex decision?It was a very difficult choice. The time had come for me to pass on the helm of Serano to somebody else. I like to think of myself as being free to do things which are right, which are interesting, that are exciting. I realized the pharmaceutical business, especially where I'd brought the company to, I really changed the company and brought it to a place where it was too big to be a small player, very agile in the biotech world, and too small to really be one of the tycoons, like Pfizer of America. I was in between waters and didn't see us surviving very happily as a result of it and felt it would be better for everybody if I passed on the baton to somebody else.Given all that you've achieved in your life, professionally, athletically, in your first 40 years, what sort of goals do you set for the next 40?Actually I was hoping to see this next year as a bit of halftime, I'm 42, and you can't run forever at full speed. For me it's halftime right now. Actually my full-time job is the America's Cup. Which is crazy. It's a passion of mine, but I never felt it would be a job. So I'm looking at my life, I'd like to be able to think through what I want to do with the half that's left-I hope I have half left.You just missed a Farr 40 world championship in August. Will you continue to sail on that circuit?That's fun. Also I just won, with one Grand Prix left to go, the D-35 multihull championship on [Lake Geneva], where we had Franck Cammas, Loick Peyron. Next year we have Michel Desjoyeaux coming. I am very proud of this because I won ahead of the elite of mulithull sailing.That's a strict one-design, the Decision 35 cats.That's a strict one design, like the Farr 40. Actually stricter than the Farr 40, we have even fewer sails we can build. We get two sails per year. And it works. And the way I got there, you know how this class was created. I was winning everything. I could probably still win the Bol d'Or and all the races the lake with my cat. I still have it. It's an unbelievable boat. It's 40 feet, we have ballast, PBO; it's a war machine. I got bored of winning all the time. You know the reason why we're here, because we were sailing the 2006 Farr 40 Worlds [in Newport, R.I.] with Brad and we had a bit of a drink at the Cooke House. I was on the tender and we were going home and Endeavour was there and I said, "Brad, you know what, it's about time we go racing in these things." Ultimately, the reason we want to move to the big boats is it's more exciting. It's just going to be more exciting. The excitement is on the water. [The legal action] just takes away the fun from me. I'll continue to do the Farr 40. I really raced only three events this year. Vincenzo Onorato, he has two boats, and he races both the European and the American events. Considering the time I spent on a Farr 40, I'm pretty pleased on my results. I'm gearing up for the Worlds, which is in Miami, which is going to be really exciting. And I don't know. Hopefully I get to race a modern J Class. How do you think you're regarded in Switzerland? How does your profile compare with people like Roger Federer or downhill skier Michael Von Gruenigen?I can never compare to Federer; he's on his own with the racket in his hand, and he defeats everybody for five years. He's an athlete. He's a real athlete. I'm not an athlete. I'm a passionate about the sport of sailing and I do my best to be part of it. I hope I know how far I can go. I know I can't helm a Cup boat. I can't do what Ed does. But I'm happy when I beat Loick Peyron for Franck Cammas on a multihull. That's where I am. The way the Swiss people see me, I think I've done something for Switzerland, I've given them a sport they didn't know they had. Not many Swiss, a few did, knew that they have lakes and that they could sail on the lakes. Now everybody knows that there are lakes in Switzerland where they can sail. That's the big difference. When we won the Cup it was like somebody walked on the moon. That sort of shook up the country. This time when you go in the street or in the taxi or buying your bread, they go: "Why didn't you do a leebow that was closer." Now people talk sailing. They ask you "Why Ed, why did you choose Ed and not Peter?" The same way they comment on why didn't we win the last ski race. They understand the sport. Every [sailing] school around the lake, you have twice as many kids on the water. That's what I think I did. I hope I'll be remembered for that than for anything else.There was a lot of idle speculation that Brad and some of the other Kiwi sailors would leave Alinghi to reunite with Russell Coutts. What does it mean that Brad, Warwick, Murray, etc. have all decided to stay with your team? Was it a surprise?These guys were signed way before anybody knew about it. These guys are very happy with Alinghi and they were always very happy. There's never been any issue with them and Alinghi. On the contrary. Russell is very unique guy. He's a very, very good sailor. He's just a bit different from everybody else. I think what happened when Russell left is that the team got stronger because suddenly a lot of these guys realized that it was an opportunity for them to show what they had contributed to all those victories and show the world that, "Yeah, Russell is one thing, but actually we have a lot to do with it." I think the leadership of these guys and the leadership of many people-not only the Kiwis, but other people on the team-moved on. We always had a very profound idea of what are the values that really drive a successful team, and I think they were put to the test. When you have a strong leader like Russell is, it's easier to live those values and have a successful team. But when that leader's gone, that's when you really test the fundamentals of what you've been preaching for years. That's what I think Alinghi is today. I'm very proud of that and everyone in the team is proud of that. This last America's Cup was great because the event was fantastic, but also the way the team got to win was very different than the time before that. Everyone contributed in a very special way.What do you hope the Bertarelli legacy will be when you do lose the Cup?I think we need to continue to focus on two things. Deliver excitement, accessible excitement across the world. Not only in Europe, not only where we go with the Acts, but in America where we unfortunately had a hard time reaching because we're competing with very successful sports. So find a way where we can connect better with America.One thing we need to do is [develop] the excitement and the accessibility of the sport and two, reduce the cost. Everybody has problems. Our problem is we're a bit too expensive. But I think we have everything going for us. In terms of-let's use, which I don't like, an industrial term-the product; it's the only sport where you have technology, team, tradition, and a complete synchrony with the environment, with nature. Our stadium is the ocean, our power is the wind. When we go out, ultimately, not matter what, we're subject to the elements. There's no other sport like that that has all these aspects. Formula 1 is great, but it's only one guy driving the boat. Sure you have skiing, but in skiing the technology, people don't get so excited about the makeup of a ski. But here we have the same excitement with Formula 1 with the machine. Man, not only one man, many men, going out in the ocean. I think that's very powerful today. More than ever. Ed Baird: I think one thing that's happening, the level and capabilities of the technology to show the audience what's happening are getting so good that people can start to understand what we're doing. There was a lot of time there where the subtleties of how you race a sailboat were lost on a huge population of television watchers so they just left. But now all of the sudden you can see how close it is, how it's working, how hard the guys are trying…Actually, you're absolutely right. One of the things we want to do, it's small innovation that we need to get working on, but we're having a hard time doing that, is that we want to hook up TV straight into the audio systems that we're using to communicate on the boat. The problem we had this time was we had two audio systems. One, which was the private one, the other was the official one. We just want to say no, every team has to hook up TV to what they say. So you're going to hear live what Ed tells the bowman. He's going to hate that because he's going to have to be sure that he uses a different language at times when he gets upset. But you're going to be onboard. We're going to have cameras everywhere. You're going to be onboard. Ed Baird: If you would've heard the conversation leading up to the last weather mark of the last race. It would've been fascinatingYou want to know why we didn't have it all the time. Because we brought BMW Oracle to the jury, ACM brought BMW Oracle to the jury because we weren't getting any sound from them. And everybody said, "If we can hear what Chris Dickson said, why should we, Team New Zealand, or Alinghi, [comply with the rules]." We brought them to the jury, and we lost. So from then on [everyone did what they could to avoid being picked up by the onboard mics].That's the sort of thing we want to do. Last time, how long it took us to agree on a common weather system for all team.Hamish Ross: We had to drag them into the jury to get the thing working; they were convinced we were spying on them, getting information and things. Suddenly when it became free, when the cost issue was taken care of, suddenly no problems at all. And then at the end of the regatta they're coming to see us and saying "For God sakes, don't dissemble the system. It's the best thing possible, we're desperate for it." Who prevented us last time from sharing GPS data? Oracle. They had the best technology to identify [how the boats were positioned] without [sharing] GPS data between the competitors. We wanted to share GPS data because then I wouldn't have to spend all day with the laser gun and we would have real onboard data for the public. Because if we share the data with the competitor, you're hooked on with the TV so you actually see the speed that our boat does. We wanted to do that.The problem is that when you're a defender you have the interest of everyone at heart. When you're a competitor your only interest is winning the Cup and becoming the defender.It was funny last night when we spoke to the NYYC flag officers. They were listening to us [recount our troubles as the defender] and saying "Yup, we know." It's easy to throw the stone.