More of a concept than a word and created in the 16th century by Italian diplomat Baldassare Castiglione to convey a kind of effortless elegance, being truly ‘sprezzatura’ is to make sure you never look like you are trying too hard. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli are through to The Match against Emirates Team New Zealand in true ‘sprezzatura’ fashion after an utterly dominant performance in 8-12 knots of breeze where they had the beating of Team Ineos all day, barely breaking a sweat with a masterful, stylish, polished masterclass of a performance. A 7-1 thrashing – this is how you win the America’s Cup – and the stage is set now for a titanic battle against Team New Zealand who spent the day buzzing the course, prowling menacingly, gathering valuable data. Beware the Ides of March though – the first full moon could be red in colour and Italian by birthright.
For the British it’s all over. The fabled Ainslie fightback didn’t materialise and the brutal nature of this competition sees Team Ineos bow out of the Cup, clinically beaten by a better boat and a better team performing at the very peak of its capabilities. It’s tough but fair. The best, the fastest, the slickest won and all credit to the Italians. This is a big moment, a moment of history for them that sets up a fabulous, tantalising final for the greatest prize in sailing and one of the most coveted trophies in sport. For the Ineos team it’s the end of the road. The end of a campaign that promised so much but delivered little when it really mattered. Just one win in the Prada Cup Final was a poor return. No excuses. Prada simply executed better and sailed like Roman Gods.
The first race of the day was a procession and for Ineos the realisation dawned that in these conditions they had brought a knife to a gun fight. Luna Rossa opted to run and hide in the pre-start, absolutely confident in their outright boatspeed, setting up in a horrible position on the Ineos hip to windward off the start line. But Prada has a high mode and the ability to live in impossible situations. The Brits were stunned and as they hit the boundary, the two boats did a choreographed tack but with the high and fast mode, the Italians could just squeeze underneath and force Ineos away.
From that and with the favoured starboard advantage secured, it was all over. Luna Rossa just powered away leg after leg on a majestic catwalk strut and as Ben Ainslie admitted after; “they were just 2 knots faster in these conditions.” Well that was probably an exaggeration but the sentiment was right. They were higher and faster all day allowing the Italians to sail their own race. In fashion speak, this spring/summer Prada collection is a masterpiece of design, a triumph of beautiful detailing with an edgy Italian elan that captured the zeitgeist of Aotearoa in the hazy summer sunshine so perfectly. And just when it mattered most.
By the end of race one, the Italians were quite simply over the horizon as they recorded a 1 minute 45 second victory which in these boats is a generation ahead. There was just nothing that the British could do. No inspirational tactic could bring them back in to the game and they were left praying for miracles that never came. How they would have loved to be in a position to challenge. How they would have loved to been able to play tactical chess. How they would have loved to be able just to play ball. All round they were deficient. It was a sinking feeling.
Race two started in just under 11 knots – conditions that Ineos knew were just a couple below where they could possibly match Luna Rossa and despite winning the marginal start, the Brits were on the back-foot from the gun with their biggest jib set, desperate for horsepower. The Italians were over early but after dropping back the requisite 50 metres, didn’t panic and just put the hammer down.
Boatspeed is a killer and within two tacks Luna Rossa were ahead to lead by a dozen seconds at the top mark. There was little Ainslie & Scott could do again, other than try and keep it close. “We need something special here” implored Ainslie but it was a plea for the impossible. Prada were making zero mistakes, sailing beautifully and offering no passing lanes. Just to be sure, they stuck to the Brits like glue extending through every tack on the second upwind leg and by the top mark were 34 seconds up. It was super-calm onboard, like taking candy from a baby. The communications were beautiful. Poetry in motion. By the finish, after a flawless display, Luna Rossa secured a thumping 56 second victory and it was high fives – at last the emotions could flow. The Latin spirit erupted.
Game over. Luna Rossa takes the Prada Cup. They advance to the Match with a package that only outright speed will beat. Italy can start to dream. Patrizio Bertelli’s lifelong quest of securing the Auld Mug is tantalisingly close now and on this performance they have every reason to believe that the impossible is possible. A more ruthless display they could not have imagined.
Style is a simple way of communicating complex things. Miuccia Prada, the genius whose name adorns the fashion empire once said; “I like life spent doing something significant. Perhaps the only thing I fear is boredom.” Well today out on the Hauraki Gulf it was anything but boring and it was highly significant. Her Prada team is on the cusp of greatness. They deserve every plaudit, every compliment. They were quite simply on another level.
For Ineos it’s review time. It’s over. Another British challenge that promised so much. A challenge that got off on the wrong foot, recovered well to ace the Round Robins but then fought a platform that ultimately couldn’t deliver the performance. Clicks couldn’t be found despite the design might of Mercedes and the Cup won’t be coming home this time. In tough global conditions, the fact that they got back in the game is testament to the team spirit and they can walk away with their heads held high and positives aplenty.
Ben Ainslie has led the sailors superbly. Giles Scott has emerged as a serious talent. Jim Ratcliffe has shown a rare sporting determination in supporting the team and knows now just what is required. He has the resources and the experience of the great game of the America’s Cup to go again. Plain and simple they were beaten by the better team. Whether the rumoured Challenger of Record status materialises or not is a question for later. Now it’s time for the weight of expectation to lift and the relentless pressure that they put themselves under to ebb away. So close but so so far, it’s a case of what might have been.
So whilst the Mumm champagne was sprayed, Mount Etna erupted back home in Italy casting a red sky almost in tribute to the Luna Rossa team over Sicily. In Auckland, a red Italian moon hung high in the sky and cast a shadow of competitiveness and a statement of intent over the America’ Cup. It’s all on for the Match now.
Team New Zealand versus Luna Rossa for the 36th America’s Cup. Pistol Pete versus Pitbull. It’s the match-up the world wants to see. The fastest boat will win. It promises to be the final of finals. Congratulations to the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team – the best team won the Prada Cup. Enjoy this moment. You deserved it. Bellissimo!