The recipient of the 2017 John Britten Black Pin will tell you that he’s accepting this award in recognition of his team. That is true to some degree. But every great team needs someone to lead them. And for the design team behind Emirates Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup winning boat, that leader is Dan Bernasconi.
As the team’s Technical Director, Dan this year channelled 25 years of study, experience and innovation into one incredible moment - sending a brave and revolutionary boat design flying over the finish line in Bermuda to claim the ultimate sailing prize.
It’s been a long voyage for Dan. But it’s been a straight and purposeful one. Growing up in England, his love of numbers took him to Cambridge University. Drawn to the tangible rather than the abstract, he switched from pure mathematics to engineering and the practical application of maths and physics to design problems.
This soon led to the role that introduced Dan to the world of high-tech sport, as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer for the McLaren Formula One Racing team.
At McLaren he quickly learned about the day-to-day realities of a being part of a high pressure, high performance design team with a razor sharp focus on winning.
Over the next six years Dan’s own focus became racing simulations and the iterative design process, as every last ounce of speed and performance was coaxed out of the team’s racing car designs.
At McLaren, he also learned the art of managing engineers, from his boss Dick Glover. As Dan himself admits, great engineers are not necessarily great managers of people. But a key piece of advice from Glover has stayed with him: you will never be able to do all the work you want to do yourself, so view your team as an extension of your own capabilities, giving you the resources to do more of the things you want to do.
Dan Bernasconi always had more of a passion for boats than for cars, however. So after taking time out to complete a PhD in Mathematical Modelling and Aerodynamics, he moved to the world of high performance sailing at the end of 2006 and to Emirates Team New Zealand in 2010, where he has been ever since.
The team’s win in Bermuda was a triumph for design leadership. Over many long months and thousands upon thousands of simulations, Dan and his team of specialists worked to design the most radical boat they could within the rules. From engineers to management to the amazing sailors, everyone was onboard with their mission; to explore, to be radical, and to win.
From the finely tuned dagger boards to the complex foiling systems required to propel their AC50 to victory, Dan attributes Team New Zealand’s success to an attitude of experimentation and creativity.
It should come as no surprise, then, that they have their eyes on new horizons. Dan and his team are exploring radical concept designs for their next boat. And a number of his former teammates are now working with Rocket Labs, leaving the water and launching New Zealand’s most cutting edge design work into the heavens.
We asked Dan what good design means to him. His answer encapsulated the thinking of any designer:
“Good design is having a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve; being open to exploring as wide a realm of solutions as you can; focusing on the best options; and then thoroughly optimising the chosen solution.”
And in the case of Emirates Time New Zealand, that chosen design solution could not have been more effective.