Without any doubt, Francesco de Angelis is the most qualified Italian to talk about the America’s Cup. In fact, he’s the first and only so far, non-Anglo-Saxon skipper to have won the Louis Vuitton Cup and raced the America’s Cup Match. The Italian that skippered Prada Challenge to the America’s Cup match in 2000, talked to our colleagues at Zero Gradi Nord about the current state of affairs of what is considered to be the pinnacle event of our sport.
Zero Gradi Nord: Thanks for the time you decided to grant us and welcome on Zerogradinord.it. Given the interest last week’s interview with Vasco Vascotto aroused, my first question is almost a must: Are you part of that ninety-eight percent that criticizes the new America’s Cup or do you belong to the small minority in favor of it?
Francesco de Angelis: I do not see myself confined in that ninety-eight and two percent. Zerogradinord.it asked me to express my thoughts and it’s my pleasure to do so but my words are not a response to Vasco’s statements, who nevertheless had the merit of starting an interesting discussion. In his interview there are many ideas I share and other things on which I have a different view. Now the plan is done, the real competitors are less than what we hoped for, but if you want to be objective we should wait until 2013 to make an assessment. For the moment, everyone can express their point of view or talk about what they would have done if they were the Defender. We are faced with an ambitious and difficult project. We all know how much publicity and promotion the America’s Cup represents for sailing and yachting in general, so, in reality, we should all be fans and this is very important to us. Whoever has decision-making power in the organization of the Cup should feel this responsibility towards the sport, its practitioners, the public and also act genuinely in the interest of all of them.
Zero Gradi Nord: If one wanted to renovate the America’s Cup was it necessary to focus on multihulls or could we have chosen a different way?
Francesco de Angelis: Change was necessary and change of the class was indispensable. Monohull or multihull? Everybody have their own opinion. I consider that sailors, being professionals, would succeed, through training, to match race even using a different platform. Surely the general public has been able to get passionate about sailing through years of television broadcasting and is now in position to understand the most important rules that, we should always keep in mind, are very difficult. Obviously, all that will radically change, because the introduction of multihulls will impose profound modifications to the Racing Rules, which at present don’t allow umpires to umpire a duel on those new platforms. Whether the catamaran is suitable or not is, as a result, something we will see later on. It will also depend on the type of race courses they choose, the new rules and the racing format.
Zero Gradi Nord: The Cup teaches us that the Defender always has its advantages but it is widely believed that Oracle Racing moves towards the defense of an unbridgeable gap. Is it truly like that?
Francesco de Angelis: History tells us that a challenger can beat the Defender. Without any doubt, Oracle Racing find themselves with a very big head start, but not only on the technological aspect, because at the end of the day the wing isn’t as complex as people initially thought. The advantage the Americans have lies in having well selected their personnel, taking advantage of the transitional period between their victory and the presentation of the new format. They were able to strengthen all areas they thought could be improved. Then, don’t forget that the Defender is working on all cylinders since almost four years. From a structural standpoint, the engine is very well organized: the loop between the design team, the boatyard, the sailors, the technical staff, has always been active. It will really be very difficult for the challengers… but not impossible.
Zero Gradi Nord: Shortly before Oracle opted for the multihulls, ISAF had decided to remove them from the Olympic games. Now, after Oracle’s decision they are changing their mind again. How do you interpret this “contradiction” within the world of competitive sailing?
Francesco de Angelis: That’s an interesting observation. Not so much for the decision itself, since it could be argued that the Defender chose the platform on which they feel the strongest for the 2013 Cup. It would be interesting to understand what was the real process that led to choose multihulls. I think in fact that there were far more challengers interested in a monohull Cup. But then, since it was probably taken in a unilateral way, it was a legitimate choice. Regarding the crux of your question, ISAF’s reversal, in addition to an unclear vision of what could make sailing more “popular”, it puts in evidence a division of the environment, and this is a big problem for sailing. I consider it a missed opportunity that from 2010, the people that found themselves with the power to manage the America’s Cup and take important decisions by virtue of their results on the water, didn’t think to gather around a table the people that are considered to be a reference in our sport. It would have been possible to work on a coherent plan for the long-term recovery of our sport.
Zero Gradi Nord: Was the introduction of the AC45 class necessary? Couldn’t we have skipped that step and go directly to the AC72, setting the Cup at 2014?
Francesco de Angelis: The AC45 is a beautiful project, no doubt about it, but it represents an additional cost for the teams. If you already have a tight budget and then you have to eat part of it into this boat and its related circuit, it’s obvious you are burning resources otherwise spent elsewhere. I sense the vision of that project, I perceive positive things but it certainly is challenging. My question is: Does the next America’s Cup have to necessarily be something similar to Star Wars or, given the way the world is changing, can you still maintain a very high technical level but being closer to the real world? Can you have a more frugal version of it? I cannot forget the beautiful editions in New Zealand. We read in the media that the city of San Francisco and America’s Cup Race Management are looking for US$ 300 million to spend in the organization. Do you really need 300 million dollars for three months of racing? If you then add the budgets of six-seven teams that will spend, let’s say, on average 50 million each, you get a a bill of up to 600 million dollars. These are huge numbers. Meanwhile, Barack Obama talks about reducing the budget deficit by 1,100 billion dollars. I put myself in the shoes of a company: I want to promote my brand but I also have certain demands on responsibility, on ethics in respect of my employees and the community. Hence, I want my investment to follow a given project and to have certain characteristics. If the event gives the impression of being a battle between mega-billionaires that is an image I don’t necessarily identify with.
Zero Gradi Nord: We have repeatedly mentioned the word “budget”. What would you tell an owner that approached you with the intention to race in the America’s Cup and asked you how much it would cost?
Francesco de Angelis: To participate or to try to win? In the past I would have told you: it costs what it costs… and there’s someone that participated that way, even recently. I believe that, with the available information right now, and we still lack more, the budget of a top team is not unlike the ones from 2007. I don’t see any drop in costs. You might have less sailors in the crew but it’s not just with the reduction in the number of athletes that you contain the budget. It’s true that personnel is one of the most important expenses, but the research necessary for the project, the duration of the campaign and logistics are also major items and compared to them the expenses related to the yachts and their construction are lower. In any case, you will find the money if the event is of quality, sustainable, spectacular and communicates emotions and right values. Keep in mind that the sensitivity of people is changing rapidly, we’ll see …
Zero Gradi Nord: Will the next America’s Cup be competitive or marked by large speed differences?
Francesco de Angelis: The history of the event tells us that every time there is a rule change there are greater differences in term of performance. However, this one is also an opportunity for teams that, even with limited resources, hit the nail on the head with the right choice. I believe that a lot will be played on the design of the wing. The hulls are not, after all, that complex to design. I’m not underestimating the task of the designers but I see more of an advantage if you design the wings well. A lot will also depend on the weather differences San Francisco will present between the selection series and the match: the Defender could focus the design of its platform on a very narrow weather window. I’m also very curious to see how the race courses will be: there’s the need to keep the yachts close in order to emphasize their spectacular nature and put the focus on the sailors that will be called upon to make the difference. In addition, as I was saying earlier, a lot will also depend on how the racing rules are altered. This is a very delicate aspect. We practice a sport that forces you to study the rules every year, something that is already atypical in itself. We now have an event program for 2013 and we still don’t know anything in terms of rules. We say it’s alright because we are professionals. But let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a simple fan that followed sailing during the night when it was in Auckland or when it was in Valencia and forced himself to learn the rules in order to understand what he was watching. What do you tell him? It will certainly be easier for those that follow the races for the first time.
Zero Gradi Nord: You mentioned San Francisco. Do you agree with the Defender’s choice to take the Cup across the ocean?
Francesco de Angelis: Well, for God’s sake, it took them three challenges to win and they are from San Francisco. I would also bring the Cup home if I won. It’s a very beautiful place, a natural theater. I don’t think this is the problem. Of course, it’s important to have a circuit that visits many countries but in that case as well, it depends on how much many you have in the bank.
Zero Gradi Nord: Being one of the key players you had the opportunity to assess Alinghi’s preparation prior to the 32nd America’s Cup. What approach would you judge as better, the Swiss Defender’s or the American Defender’s?
Francesco de Angelis: Again, you need a premise: in order to make the rules you first have to win the Cup. Those that haven’t won must respect the role and prerogatives of the Defender. Having said that, it is undeniable though that the 2007 edition enjoyed the change of continent, because for the first time in history the Cup came to Europe and this greatly contributed to growing the excitement around the event. We also have to recognize Alinghi’s great merit of introducing the idea of the Acts that by visiting different nations raised the expectation in respect of the event. The result was a Cup that everybody remembers as one of the best ever because it was rich in teams, public and marked by an extremely high technical level. It was the cup of big numbers, in all aspects. Having gone through that, I know that all the necessary prerequisites in order to sit on a table with sponsors were satisfied. Whoever might fund you must immediately know where, how and when because otherwise they don’t even bother valuing your project. Unfortunately, the change imposed in 2010 still lacks important data. We recently learned that the match will be in San Francisco in 2013 but we still don’t know the dates and locations of the of pre-regattas, TV production, TV rights, etc, etc. This, regardless of the amount of money needed to participate, doesn’t give you the opportunity to close deals with the sponsors in time for your project to really have a good technical and sports chance.
Zero Gradi Nord: What is the time frame now for a startup America’s Cup team?
Francesco de Angelis: A team that wants to reach the finals already started working when the class rule was officially announced. It’s at that moment that you must have the ability to spend money. I imagine you would build the first boat between June and August of this year. This means you already have a project and boatyard ready, you have ordered the materials. All this while you still lack some key information in order to have sponsors. How do you do it? Paradoxically, the start of this campaign doesn’t favor projects born with sponsor funding but those that have the backing of an owner that carries them, at least in the initial period. The owner is a key figure in the world of navigation, be it commercial, recreational or competitive. He buys the yacht. In the case of racing he’s a figure moved by passion but, at the end, the numbers have to balance for everybody. Since there are very few that can be in the Cup alone, even owners need sponsors.
Zero Gradi Nord: Is it like going back to the J-Class era when the only ones to fight for the America’s Cup were the Vanderbillts, the Liptons or others like them?
Francesco de Angelis: Exactly. It almost seems the initial reasoning was to have a Cup just for a few and that’s all. Basically, you just need only one strong challenger to have a beautiful final. It would have been different if we had received in June 2010 the final program, the class rule, the dates and locations of the circuit… I know well that it wasn’t a trivial task and they should have started even before Oracle Racing won the Cup, but the Defender had the necessary resources and the qualified staff. Had it been that way, I’m convinced that today there would be some more competitors in the list and probably solid ones.
Zero Gradi Nord: An example of owner is Torbjorn Tornqvist of Artemis Racing…
Francesco de Angelis: Indeed, he’s someone that, even in the absence of the entire framework, has the means to face a campaign by himself and decided to go ahead. Maybe he finds sponsors later on. However, there aren’t many like him, in fact there are very few and as a result, the number of real entered teams is limited. Was that the objective given 2013 is so close?
Zero Gradi Nord: It seems there is less interest in this America’s Cup in Europe and many blame the financial crisis. However, we see the America’s Cup on the radar screens of other continents.
Francesco de Angelis: The way I see it, it is wrong to speak of a crisis. Of course, there has been a crisis in the banking sector that started a revolution which changed the world in many aspects. In addition, the economic balances have rapidly changed. Wealth hasn’t disappeared, it simply moved. For me that’s a very important point. If you look at the sales of the major companies, they have actually increased, Oracle for example… We are still facing a historic change, not just a crisis that sooner or later would go away. The are countries that are growing, far away from Europe and I’m not referring to China, India or Brazil that have already emerged. If you look a the 2007 Cup, eight out of the twelve teams were from the Old Continent. With the ongoing change, it simply is a dream if one thinks we could repeat the same percentages we had in Valencia. When I look at all those potential challengers from Europe I immediately think there aren’t enough resources for everybody. In the last two years, I have been able to verify that for myself while I was trying to set up a very good project. Maybe there could be some new reality, coming from other continents, but in that case event organizers should adapt in order to support them create the basic structure for the initial period, because we are talking about projects that lack any experience in that level. However, time flies.
Zero Gradi Nord: Do you think the format of the Extreme Sailing Series is a good example?
Francesco de Angelis: Yes. It’s organized in a way that caters to the needs of the teams and their sponsors. The moment the season is officially presented, you immediately have all the necessary information to look for funding. You know the locations of the events and the calendar, you have the communication plan and the events take place very close to the public. You could argue they do not represent the highest technical level of sailing, but racing is spectacular, fast and fun. It’s a nice circus, in the positive sense of the word. It is rightfully enjoying success because it is well organized.
Zero Gradi Nord: Talking about the Challenger of Record’s role, a lot of people accuse Mascalzone Latino of being too idle. You had the bruden and honor of taking that delicate role in the 2003 Cup. What are the real difficulties in being the Challenger of Record?
Francesco de Angelis: I had that experience in 2003 and, let me tell you, we did a good job, even if at the end it was the official challenger that won (Alinghi). The difficulties depend very much on how things are set up at the beginning and on the vision the Defender and the Challenger of Record have in mind. I remember, strong from our 2000 experience when we reached the finals after a 5-4 victory in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, we worked with great attention on properly structuring the racing calendar. Our objective was to guarantee the challengers the necessary time to recover and prepare their yacht prior to the start of the finals. I was obviously criticized, because many argued the format was too long, but in reality our vision was shared by the kiwis and the rest of competitors. We also introduced the concept of repechage, in order to give the smaller teams better visibility.
Zero Gradi Nord: Do you agree with the criticism on the current Challenger of Record, Mascalzone Latino?
Francesco de Angelis: Observers like myself can simply comment on how much Mascalzone Latino’s vision has changed since the legal battle between Société Nautique de Genève and Golden Date Yacht Club, when they weer in favor of a Cup in ACC Version 5 yachts. They were in favor of monohulls and then enthusiastically embraced the idea of multihulls. As for the issue of budget containment, if one wants to be competitive I don’t see a big success. Now, as far as their specific work with the current challengers and how much pressure the Defender is putting on the outstanding issues, only someone directly involved can comment.