Ernesto Bertarelli chats to Sue Pelling about his America's Cup winning formula and why he chose sailing over Formula 1

 It’s hard not to be impressed by the extent of professionalism surrounding America’s Cup defenders, Team Alinghi. And one only has to see the extent of how organised the team is to understand why pure talent on the water wasn’t the only Cup-winning factor in 2002/3. Ernesto Bertarelli, the owner, president of Alinghi, succeeded in creating one of the world’s best sailing teams and the result on the water was a clear reflection of the extremely well-organised, professional way in which things were run on shore.

With a Cup-winning formula in place from last year it’s not surprising therefore that Team Alinghi are the first Cup syndicate to have relocated to Valencia and, with two years to go, are well on the way to repeating their performance as favourites to win the Cup in 2007.

Interestingly Bertarelli finds himself in a fairly rare situation where an owner succeeds in becoming closely involved with not only the running of the team but with the sailing. As a talented sailor in his own right – navigator aboard Alinghi – Bertarelli says although it was a dream to be part of the sailing team what he needed to do was to understand how the team worked on the water.

Chatting to, Bertarelli said: “I did not have an understanding of what it took and how hard it was, so I trained with them [the crew]. I was then able to get to a level where I could contribute to the team as a sailor. Being in the heart of the team gave me the ability to understand issues and not be remote. This is more relevant than people think because to win the America’s Cup you need to be aware of the team to allow them to take their own responsibilities and be able to contribute without impediments or prejudices.”

While team Alinghi seem to be content and have plenty of motivation particularly now they’ve been relocated to Valencia, the recent situation with the departure of Russsell Coutts was a big wrench and it will clearly be some time before things settle down. But chatting about the prospects of winning the Cup in 2007 without Coutts, Bertarelli said: “We now have a different team and we will know if we have an equally strong team in 2007 because the ultimate measure will be winning or losing the Cup.”

While there were obviously endless personal wranglings between Bertarelli and Coutts which led to Coutts’s dismissal last year, it was interesting to hear Bertarelli’s comments on whether he was sad about losing Coutts from the team: “Of course, I am sad. I would have hoped for something different because we achieved an incredible challenge together and I have a lot of respect for him. Things didn’t work out but now we’ve found a settlement that I think we’re both at ease with so I guess that’s the best thing we can achieve so far.”

As CEO and Deputy Chairman of Serono International SA, a leading Biotechnology company, and one of world’s richest businessmen it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Bertarelli involved with other major sports such as Formula 1. Bertarelli says to explain his choice: “I’m more of a team player than an individualist. I think at a competitive level one of the nice things is being able to share victory with others and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and that’s what sailing has brought me on top of everything. Plus the fact that I was almost born on a sailboat. My father was a keen sailor and took me sailing before I could even walk. Actually I’m quite proud that my little son learnt to sail on a boat too. So sailing has been part of my youth and I appreciate the sport.”

And the Volvo Ocean Race, have you ever considered taking part in that? Bertarelli concluded: “I’ve done a bit of offshore racing including the Fastnet and a couple of offshores in the Med but I’m not a big offshore fan. I get cold very quickly because I’m from the south of Europe. As for the VOR; I’ve never considered doing it and never will!”