For Pirelli – which will be co-title sponsor with Prada – the challenge of sailing is synonymous with managing and applying its passion to a high-technology sport. The 36th edition of the America’s Cup will provide the spectacle of Luna Rossa, in the guise of Challenger of Record, setting out to capture the trophy held by Emirates Team New Zealand, the Defender. And it will do so alongside a partner with enormous experience in everything to do with speed, in a unique symbiosis between two brands that are setting out to raise aloft the colours of Italy.
"Pirelli is the ideal partner for taking on this new America’s Cup challenge," explains Patrizio Bertelli, president of Luna Rossa Challenge. "With its great experience in the top echelons of high-technology sport, it will be a major asset to our project."
Moreover the America’s Cup – the oldest and surely most exciting challenge of the seas – can also be seen as a transposition on to water of what Formula One means on the asphalt: a highly prestigious competition where the very best athletes go head to head, where the technicians are the best in the world, and where just one detail can make all the difference between defeat and victory.
In this sense, Formula One and the America’s Cup are parallel universes: whether at sea or on the race track, only the best athletes can take part, while engineers play a crucial role and the performance of the boat – or car – can decide who wins. It’s no coincidence that the sailors and drivers themselves are also required to act as ‘test pilots’, reporting back to the designers to ensure maximum speed and performance.
This edition of the America’s Cup seeks to draw a line between it and the two previous ones in terms of innovation – and the approach of 2021 will see some major changes. The class AC75 rule, which defines the design parameters for the yachts, has already consigned catamarans to the past, replacing them with a single 75ft monohull, with two five-metre-plus keels and featuring a curved, tilting main section with a long "T" at the end. There will also be restrictions on the number of components – hulls, masts, rudders, foils, sails – to incentivise fewer physical tests and more computer simulations, the idea being to limit testing on the water. Wingsails will no longer be used because these have been the cause of numerous logistical problems in the past. Instead mainsails will return – made of highly specialist fabrics and, unlike wingsails, capable of being hoisted.
The new boats will be like arrows slicing through the seas – or rather flying over the waves. Travelling in full foil – with the hull completely lifted off the water – they reach unprecedented speeds, and the need for ever-increasing control of the boat while racing is prompting new research and a requirement for experts not only in boat design but also in aeronautics and spacecraft.
It’s an increasingly demanding challenge for sailors, the significance of which is underlined by Max Sirena, skipper and team director of Luna Rossa. "Physical preparation is also increasingly important," he says. "Courses in holding the breath and training under stress – as well as endless precautions – are needed. We’ve even changed the clothing: no longer just T-shirts and shorts but also protective kit."