Patrizio Bertelli is braced for the biggest challenge of his long America's Cup career.
The Luna Rossa supremo has been synonymous with the event since 2000, one of the most charismatic figures in the battle for yachting's greatest prize.
There have been ups and downs over the past two decades, but nothing quite like what has presented this time; taking on the formidable beast that is Team New Zealand, on their home waters, in the most complex, complicated and extreme boats the event has seen, without the benefit of build-up regattas.
To exacerbate matters, Luna Rossa has to remain focussed on their sporting assignment amidst the backdrop of a second massive Covid-19 outbreak in Italy, with Bertelli navigating his massive Prada empire through the crisis, conscious of the welfare of thousands of employees at the fashion giant.
"It's very hard for us," Bertelli tells the Weekend Herald from his office in Milan. "We have all of our factory workers and it really keeps you awake at night if you think that 25,000 Italians died in November. At times it is a bit much to speak of sailing and racing because it is a game. A beautiful game but just a game."
That's why Bertelli, who established the Prada sailing team (later renamed Luna Rossa) in 1997, is still in Italy. It's too difficult to leave, though he hopes to arrive for January's Prada Cup.
But the 74-year-old, who has an estimated net worth of $5 billion, maintains constant contact with his team, working long hours to facilitate meetings and phone calls at either end of the day.
"We have a lot of old hands in Auckland," says Bertelli. "At the first America's Cup [in 2000] we were all rookies – we started out with a team of young boys - but now we can count on a team of hardened professionals."
They'll need every ounce of experience next March, if they win the right to face Team New Zealand in the Cup match.
"They may have a huge advantage, but we will see that when we get on the racecourse," says Bertelli. "They will definitely start with a big advantage; they had a lot of knowhow in designing and engineering the [foiling] catamarans and many other boats of this kind. So, we will see. For sure they will be very tough, we know that."
Bertelli is a genuine yachting enthusiast – he tinkered with boats in his garage as a teenager – and can't wait to see the 75-foot foiling monohulls in action.
Though he had reservations about the new class during the formative discussions between the Defender and the Challenger of Record, mainly because of the barriers to entry created by the cost and complexity, his excitement is obvious.
"As soon as the racing starts the whole sailing world will be taken aback," says Bertelli. "These boats are really interesting, they are flying and are a step forward compared to the catamarans.
"It is going to be a surprise for all of us; we haven't yet seen a match race, a pre-start. It is not just about boat speed, it is about boat handling and manoeuvring and everything connected with these new boats."
But the focus on these technological marvels has lessened in recent weeks, overshadowed by off the water disputes, particularly between Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.
There have been undercurrents of friction over the last 12 months, with various public and private disagreements over different aspects of the event, the schedule and the boats.
But the situation has reached a new low over the last two months, with a series of high profile snipes and bust-ups.
However, Bertelli is both candid and calm about the current situation.
"From the outside it may be a bit strange but frankly, we are opponents, we are competing and this is what the America's Cup is all about," says Bertelli.
"It always involves this kind of fighting, this kind of controversy so we should be open and say what we think. Some things may be excessive, there may be some exaggerations, but let's give them the weight they deserve and not more.
"Historically Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa have been regular challengers and rivals and have befriended each other at the same time. And for the last 20 years an America's Cup without Luna Rossa is a bit like an orphan. And for the Kiwis – if we were not racing the America's Cup you would miss us, wouldn't you? That is a given."
Bertelli and Grant Dalton have been friends for years, and the two syndicates have worked together at previous regattas, but the dynamic is different this time.
"We all know Grant Dalton, he takes his own positions, so I am not surprised," says Bertelli. "And we Italians tend to be a bit hot-tempered at times, but we are not mean. It is a way of expressing ourselves, a way of stating opinions loud and clear.
"I don't know if there is a strong intention to pitch New Zealand against Luna Rossa and vice versa but we are opponents so we are kind of pinching each other all the time.
"The starting point is that we have known each other forever now and we have always enjoyed friendly respectful relations. Right now, Grant Dalton is a bit above the line…but that is part of the game. I'm not shocked, I guess.
"And maybe if you ask him, he will think that we are above the line sometimes too. [But] I don't think we have jeopardised a friendship built over 20 years.
"We went through some pretty rough patches and we have been discussing very difficult things many times but we have never really opposed each other. In the end, we will always find a way to get along."
Bertelli, who is co-chief executive of Prada along with his wife Miuccia, also hopes there will be some empathy for the current awful situation in Italy.
"New Zealand is Covid free," says Bertelli. "In Italy yesterday, 850 people lost their lives. It is impossible to forget everything just because we are thinking about this beautiful sport.
"That's why I haven't travelled. I'm in my office and I want to be here. We are responsible for our workers and people need to see us here. There is a lot of tension and anxiety.
"Since the first Covid outbreak it has become much closer to our daily lives and affects us every single day. Now we are going towards winter, which is the worse time.
"[So] I never feel angry for what happens in the Cup. Why should I feel angry? People are dying over here. I'm thankful for being involved in the fun that is the America's Cup and it's really important for us. It's complex, it's expensive, it's difficult but it's only sport."
Bertelli hopes the 2021 event provides a welcome diversion for his compatriots.
"I'm sure it's going to be a boost for Italians," says Bertelli. "It's on free to air TV and it is going to be a good distraction. People will stay up all night to watch the America's Cup and Luna Rossa is close to people's hearts.
"This is why I am so happy to talk to you," says Bertelli, who rarely grants interviews. "We want Kiwis to understand that we are there for sport first and to compete. And of course, whenever you compete [you] want to beat your opponent. [But] once the competition is over we are friends, we respect each other and we go out and have a beer together."
That beverage – whether Steinlager or Peroni – is a few months away but whatever the result, Bertelli's love for the event means his future Cup participation is almost guaranteed.
"It becomes an addiction, a fever," laughs Bertelli. "I've seen a lot of people that said they want to race in the next three or four America's Cups and then they disappeared from sight. Luna Rossa was one of the only ones that kept this promise."