HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Although there is no Italian America's Cup team in Bermuda after Luna Rossa withdrew in anger over a rule change, Italy is having an impact on the final and could influence the cup's future.
When Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli pulled the team backed by the Italian luxury goods group out of the competition in April 2015, he offered key members of his team to help Emirates Team New Zealand, which is now challenging Oracle Team USA.
As the holder of the "Auld Mug", the U.S. team gets to decide the rules, and the decision to change the specifications of the boats stirred the already bad blood with the Italians, who called the change an "abrupt and unacceptable imposition".
Most significant among the team members who joined New Zealand's attempt to dethrone Oracle was former Luna Rossa skipper and team director Max Sirena who switched ship in October 2015 to work alongside New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton.
Sirena won the 33rd America’s Cup with BMW Oracle Team and led the Luna Rossa challenge in the 34th edition of the cup.
Luna Rossa said at the time of his move to Emirates Team New Zealand that this underlined "the sporting and friendly ties of mutual respect" built up since 2000.
As well as helping the New Zealand team out with personnel including designers, Bertelli has also helped them with support boats and other "assets", America's Cup sources told Reuters.
These ties could come into play in the next phase of the cup because victory for New Zealand, who lead the U.S. holders in the first-to-seven competition, would mean they get to decide on the format of the 36th America's Cup.
A close relationship between Bertelli and Matteo de Nora, who is Team Principal and a financial supporter of Emirates Team New Zealand, has led to expectations among other America's Cup teams, sponsors and sailors that Luna Rossa will become the "Challenger of Record" if New Zealand win.
Under the terms set out by the America's Cup "Deed of Gift", which dates back to the 1850s, the Challenger of Record is the first one accepted by the new defender of the cup.
This is done formally by a yacht club linked to one of the teams and there is usually a scramble to get the challenge in as soon as the final race is decided, with notice being served to the winning team as their boat crosses the finish line.
The challenger then negotiates initial crucial terms of the next cup, including location, the type of boat, the format and the rules under which teams will compete.
"We all understand that they (New Zealand) are likely to have Luna Rossa as a challenger of record, but what their plans and intentions are is completely unknown," America's Cup Regatta Director Iain Murray told Reuters this week. [L8N1JK4AO]
Oracle has signed up to a "framework agreement" with four of the other challengers this year which would mean the cup being held every two years in foiling catamarans and a series of match races along the lines of Formula One around the world.
But not everyone liked the idea, with some saying it was not true to the spirit of the cup and New Zealand boycotted it. The New Zealand camp have not said so far what they will do if they win the cup back. [L8N1JK44V]
Editing by Adrian Croft