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Interview / Marcelino Botín

Marcelino Botin of Alinghi Red Bull Racing poses for a portrait in Barcelona, Spain on November 17, 2022

Marcelino Botín will design a boat to win the America’s Cup for the fourth time. He began with Team New Zealand in 2007, moved on to Luna Rossa and last year led the design of American Magic. 

Why did you sign for Alinghi?

Firstly because Alinghi Red Bull Racing is a European team and the next race will be held in Barcelona. This makes things easier for us in terms of schedules, cultural idiosyncrasies, etc. We’ve also had a relationship with Ernesto Bertarelli for many years.

Were you put off by the fact that Alinghi was a new team?

Not at all. For me the most important goal is to enjoy the three years of your life that you’re going to devote to the project. There are many hours of work and if you aren’t happy it’s very hard. Finding a good environment and being allowed to organise my own design team were decisive factors. Starting from scratch with a blank sheet was another stimulus. The current Alinghi is a basically new team, it only retains a small part of its previous structure and it’s associated with Red Bull. Although Red Bull may not have been so heavily involved in the America’s Cup, it has vast experience in high-tech motorsport teams.

How do the synergies with Red Bull work?

Although designing boats and cars are two different things, they have a lot in common. The design tools for the aerodynamics and the calculation of the structures are very similar, although the scales are different. There’s learning that we must pass on to them, because they aren’t used to the boats, and that’s a problem because it takes time and things happen very fast here. Sometimes we have to decide whether we have enough time to wait for their help. Some Red Bull engineers have come to work with us from the outset, and this problem of understanding the boats is no longer an issue for them. They also provide us with highly specialised test labs which are very helpful to us, saving us time and money when we set them up. We do the calculations in real time for the simulator whereas they do them in another way. But their technology and software help us a lot. And in other fields, such as systems and electronics, in which they’re very advanced.

Is the wind in Barcelona giving you many headaches?

Until now we’ve almost always had wind for sailing on the regatta course in Barcelona. The waves are a new factor with respect to previous races, they’re a particular challenge when the wind blows from the east for several days in a row. It’ll be difficult to compete on some days, as things get very complicated with waves over a metre high. The wave only lasts for four seconds, they’re really pointed waves and if this groundswell goes in a different direction to the wind, the challenge is even greater. In terms of the design we have to juggle with the statistics of the conditions of the venue to achieve a competitive boat throughout the expected range, and now the unknown factor of the waves that didn’t exist before has entered the equation. In the design it seems really important for me for the systems to work properly and be effective in responding to the sailors’ inputs, as sailing with waves is more difficult for them.

Rule change with lighter boats and larger foils

The boat will get going sooner and our work is easier in this respect. The larger size of the foils conditions the design with respect to before. The boats won’t be slower, and I think we won’t see some of the regattas we endured in Auckland, which were pathetic and embarrassing.

The scheduled date for sailing with the new AC 75?

Without going into any great detail, I’m sure it’ll be in 2024, but I don’t know the exact date. On the one hand, you want to have the boat in the water as soon as possible; our current boat is first-generation and the new one will be third-generation, which is a big change. On the other, it’s always a temptation to prolong the design time as much as possible. It’s obvious that you learn more sailing the boat than sitting in the office. The key is to identify the optimal moment. After obtaining the final design, we take between 10 and 12 months to build the boat. The carbon shell doesn’t take much time, but setting up all the systems and checking them requires much more time than other kinds of boats.

As regards the 2007 monohulls, is the design more influential than the crew?

During the previous race we sailed and competed so little that it’s very difficult to know for sure. In 2020 everyone did the same thing during the pre-starts, but the options are infinite, you can do a lot more than what we saw in Auckland. Perhaps the greater ease of foiling helps, as one of the previous problems was stopping the boat. I think we’ll see new things. It’s hard to say, but I think the crew is more important now. These new ones are much faster and finding one more knot of wind on the regatta course is really important. We already saw in Auckland how Luna Rossa was slower than New Zealand but was able to win regattas because they sailed better.