Interview: Ernesto Bertarelli

ESPN’s Gary Jobson talks with Alinghi’s syndicate head and navigator about independent race committees and sailing with the best.

The quiet 37-year-old leader of the Alinghi challenge, Ernesto Bertarelli, has created a syndicate that is an impressive blend of style and substance. Bertarelli made up the word "Alinghi" when he was young. It rolls off the tongue nicely. Alinghi represents "joy, dreams, a certain lightness, but also speed and action," says Bertarelli. The team's arresting logo resembles the wakes of circling boats, and its colors, black and red, represent the colors of Switzerland and New Zealand. Bertarelli is the CEO of the Serono Group, one of the world's largest biotechnology companies, employing 4,500 people in 45 countries and reporting $317 million in net profit in 2001. Alinghi got off to a fast start in this America's Cups with three quick wins, but weather delays have slowed the momentum event. On the fourth postponed day, ESPN's Gary Jobson sat down with Bertarelli and Alinghi's skipper, Russell Coutts (see separate interview). Jobson: Are the continual weather delays frustrating to you and the rest of the crew? Bertarelli: Oh, you know, we are here for racing so of course we prefer to race than to wait around.Jobson: Do you think the race committee could have gotten some races in?Bertarelli: Yesterday between 2 and 4 o'clock, we could have had a good race. The wind went up to ten knots; during the Louis Vuitton we raced any time there was more than seven. There were at least two hours where there was between seven and ten knots of wind. We could have raced yesterday.Jobson: Do you think the race committee should be leaving it up to the competitors whether to race or not?Bertarelli: I don't think so. If we are ever lucky enough and strong enough to win this cup we will have an independent race committee.Jobson: Is this hard on your crew? You're up 3 to 0, but is it hard to be just waiting day after day? Does it take away momentum?Bertarelli: Actually its OK. You know the three wins are far enough now that they are behind. The next race we basically start from scratch. We have to win two, they have to win five. That is the deal now.Jobson: How do you keep the momentum up?Bertarelli: Every morning 6:30; gym, weightlifting. Weather briefing at 8:15 and then we have the call we either go out, or not. If we don't go out then it's the next day 6:30.Jobson: Do you think the race committee and Team New Zealand are in collusion with each other?Bertarelli: Oh you've been in the America's Cup long enough to know that it's kind of a tradition and I'm looking forward to change that condition. I think the race committee should be independent.Jobson: Has sailing with Russell Coutts and his team of five lived up to your expectations?Bertarelli: Oh absolutely. Racing with Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, Murray Jones, Warwick Fleurry, Simon Daubney, I experienced myself as helmsman and we won the Farr 40 Worlds. Having Simon Daubney and Warwick Fleury trim for you is something else, I mean they basically drive the boat for you. They are the best crew in the world plus now we added Jochen Schumann, which is so different in style, but has integrated this team so beautifully that being in the middle of all that when it happens is the best experience of my life.Jobson: In every interview we've done with Russell Coutts, he always mentions Jochen Schumann so he must have a big influence.Bertarelli: Yeah there is a mutual respect there. Obviously everyone was wondering: you bring two big figures of sailing together in the same boat, what's going to happen? There is a mutual respect and as I said they're so different that they really work well together. It's nice often to see Russell turn around and say "Jochen what do you think?" and Jochen launches the debate and Brad follows through and the whole thing comes together and you get the best sailing you can have.Jobson: Would it be better to just get the race going and let the time limit expire? Bertarelli: If the time runs out, it runs out. I think there was a very good question asked by [Warren St. John of] The New York Times the first day, "why don't you give us some guidelines like you had during the Louis Vuitton?" You have a computer that tells us there's enough wind. I mean tell us what is it that you are going to be doing? Don't leave it up to the competitors, it's not on.Jobson: Do you take pride in the people you have brought to this team?Bertarelli: Yeah, I'm really proud of the team we've been able to put together. Even the hard time we've had here for being criticized for putting this team together and the people leaving Team New Zealand and so forth. This is history. What we have shown is the quality of the sailing. And I really want to win the America's Cup. To be remembered as the greatest America's Cup sailing team ever, and this is what we're working for. You get the best around and you go and have fun.