Luna Rossa took a chance on an innovative strategy since the start of their campaign, and it is paying off. Could Team New Zealand replicate it? Michael Burgess reports.
Jimmy Spithill admits he was sceptical about the idea of having two helmsmen on Luna Rossa, when the subject was first broached almost three years ago.
The Italian decision to use dual drivers, with Spithill and Francesco Bruni sharing helming duties, was a major storyline of the Prada Cup and something that had not been seen before.
The innovative set-up has since come into sharper focus, with increasing speculation that Team New Zealand are trialling a similar plan for the Cup match.
Initially viewed as a risk, Luna Rossa's arrangement is now seen as a potential masterstroke, a significant factor in their impressive Prada Cup final performance.
But the system has evolved through extensive trialling, testing and racing, a process that has been far from simple. The potential set-up was first proposed soon after Spithill joined the Italian team in May 2018.
"We discussed a lot of different combinations," Spithill told the Herald. "I was a little sceptical at first because the challenge for the two helmsmen is you only really do half the race; you only really see half the race and the other half you have your blinkers on because you are trimming the foil."
"But there are obviously some advantages in the boat on boat action. We knew there were pros and cons. We thought we would capitalise on it because we had two guys ready to roll."
Bruni was also caught by surprise.
"At the beginning we didn't think about having two helmsmen," said Bruni.
"But then it became clear there could be a gain in having two."
For Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena, it came down to a simple factor.
"We decided to not shuffle people from one side to the other," said Sirena. "Compared to the other teams, where after every tack, gybe, they are moving three or four people, on our boat no one is moving apart from the mainsheet trimmer. That gives us [some] freedom in transitions and manoeuvres."
The unusual setup was derided as clunky during the round robin, when Luna Rossa struggled with their general crew work, but there was never any thought of reverting to a more orthodox arrangement.
"Behind the two helmsmen there has been a lot of toil," said Sirena. "It made no sense to rethink that. It was just a matter to apply the playbook we have and do everything right."
But it hasn't been straightforward.
Firstly, there was the psychological aspect of having two leaders; in a team there is usually only room for one, so how did Luna Rossa accommodate the ambitions of two high achievers?
"It has been a long and tricky process," says Sirena. "[They] are super talented guys but at the same time they are pretty different. It's nice to watch them working together; they respect each other and push each other to get better."
Despite the pressure and high stakes, the dynamics have worked well.
"Right from the beginning there was a great relationship, we were just talking about how to improve communication, decision-making, all this stuff," said Bruni. "We never had a single problem or single issue. We have both improved by learning from the other guy."
A greater challenge was on board co-ordination, as Spithill and Bruni switch responsibilities constantly during a race.
Communication between the pair has been constantly refined and improved, with strong input from the Luna Rossa coaches Philippe Presti and Jacopo Plazzi.
"The racing has helped us a lot and being able to analyse all the mistakes we did and all the good things we did," explained Bruni. "It was a lot of hard work from the coaches as well, they are always very critical of what we say on board and how we make decisions. When we make mistakes, they are very hard on us but in a positive way."
Mainsheet trimmer Pietro Sibello has been utilised more in the decision-making since the Prada Cup round robin, to help alleviate any potential blind spots.
"Pietro sees the entire race, he swaps sides," said Spithill. "'Checco' [Bruni] and I really only see half the race, so getting Pietro involved was a huge step forward."
As always, overall boat speed will be the critical factor in the upcoming Cup match, but Luna Rossa's dexterity and pre-start panache could also be crucial.
"We are happy we are doing something new and something that is working," said Bruni. "It is definitely a co-ordinated effort."