The Italian media is the most passionate in the world. They are also the coolest. By a country mile. And it’s no different in the America’s Cup or “Coppa America” as they beautifully call it. The Italian journalists are brilliantly enthusiastic, far better dressed than I will ever be and write for glamorous titles like La Gazetta dello Sport or Corriere della Sera, filling their pages with triumphant, shameless, undying support for their beloved Prada Pirelli team. They do the same for Ferrari in Formula 1. Online they are forensic geniuses, with the Italian Quantum Sails team diagnosing Ineos’s problems way before anyone else – and it’s probably safe to assume that their boss Terry Hutchinson told them to zip it. Trade secrets and all that chaps…
But they’ve really got something to shout about in this campaign. The photos issued last night on Instagram by the team show aero improvements in the cockpit hiding the grinders and the neatest looking tack system on their mainsail of all the challengers. Compare it with the others and this is one neat, neat system closing off the main to the deck beautifully You can also see the control lines spanning off the tack and just how much they are tweaking that double-skinned main. Extraordinary.
And in Max Sirena they have someone, for whom it is well documented in America’s Cup folklore, has competed in the competition since 1851. Max allegedly was aboard the triumphant America when it won around the Isle of Wight and started all this – he’s been in the game that long. The Italians love him. And rightly so. He’s no nonsense. Calm. Polite. And he feeds them just the right sort of stuff to keep the pink pages of the Gazetta ticking over. Max is in full mind-games mode making some outlandish claims about closing in on Team New Zealand despite some absolutely thumping losses against the Kiwis before Christmas. The Italian media lap it up relentlessly. Good for them. Personally I don’t quite buy it.
But this Prada campaign is about as close to ‘no excuse to lose’ as they can get. They are doing things differently. Split helmsmen is a really bold, interesting move and their attention to aero detail has produced arguably the most beautiful boat of this cycle. The colour scheme alone is understated elegance fusing the red Prada logo with the yellow of Pirelli against weapons-grade carbon and then creating the crew kit in grey that literally every AC sailor wants. It’s a cool outfit from top to bottom with experience to burn and all the ingredients to go deep in this contest. Jimmy Spithill is white-hot competitive and Checco Bruni is quietly becoming one of the stars of the show.
But will they win? My money says ‘no’ but it will be wafer close and I think Magic will beat them in the Prada Cup Final. Why? I’ve been looking at the changes that the Americans have been making and they look like they are on to something with their scalpel shaped hull and cut-away skeg. It’s very bow down and looks like it’s working with a refreshed set of Quantums. I think the engine room is going to decide this Cup – it’s all aloft. Foils are yesterday’s news. Those Quantum sails look very interesting to me.
Don’t get me wrong, Prada look super-slick and the team have been on the water relentlessly over the Christmas period, but there’s some magic going on over at Magic, alchemy almost and I can’t help but think that the wily old fox Hutchinson has got sail design licked in this Cup. Add in Paul Goodison and Dean Barker and I think it’s a mix that is going all the way. It will be close though.
There’s been some good argument made in the media in recent days that the Cup would be a poorer place without a British entry. I agree to a point but would argue strongly that the Cup is a far better competition with the Italians in it and that they are vital to the future success of this competition.
When they pulled out in San Francisco and sat on the sidelines in Bermuda, the Cup became a traditional USA vs NZ contest devoid of the glamour and style that the Italians bring. Great contests but the Italians bring something very special that is hard to quantify. One day, mark my words, they will win the Cup – I just don’t think it will be this time.
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