How Malta Became a Modern Traveller’s Luxury Paradise Again

Just south of Italy, the archipelago that rose to wealth and power during the Crusades is modernizing its offerings for visitors and locals alike.

By Mark Elwood 05/04/2024

They call them Aldo’s fish. The brightly colored, distinctly midcentury patterns on the plates at Villa Bologna Pottery in Malta were designed by Aldo Cremona, who worked there for more than 70 years. Born deaf to a poor family, he had limited schooling and never learned to speak, communicating instead through his vibrant artwork. The facility’s signature scroll design was his handiwork, too, as were a series of water jugs, jauntily daubed with splotches of paint to resemble women. “They were supposed to be saluting admirals, but Aldo didn’t like painting men, so he made them ladies instead,” says the pottery’s owner, Sophie Edwards. Cremona died last year, but there’s still a shelf full of those jugs in the workshop acting as templates for the designs. A small sticker indicates each of their names: Violetta with her bedroom eyes, for instance, or Delft-blue Flora.

The garden at Villa Bologna
COURTESY OF VILLA BOLOGNA

The workshop itself is almost a century old, founded in 1924 as a philanthropic effort to help employ local women, but it has been reenergized in the three years since Edwards and her husband, Rowley, took over. “Everyone in Malta knows the pottery—the pineapple lamps are popular wedding gifts,” she explains. Now, though, the couple hope to build a bigger audience; last year, they opened their first foreign store, in London’s tony Holland Park, and launched e-commerce for America this spring. Every piece will continue to be handmade.

It’s an unexpected story to those who are at all familiar with Malta. Mention the country and most will think of the military might wielded by the bygone Knights of Malta, and perhaps money, but not making things. Today, though, thanks to an influx of wealthy and design-focused new citizens, the tiny, rocky nation is starting to rebrand itself as a source of, and destination for, serious luxury.

Malta, at just 122 square miles, is composed of three islands: the namesake and largest, plus smaller, rural Gozo, and Comino, a shard wedged between the two. The trio sit squat in the center of the Mediterranean and benefit from naturally deep harbors; such geography and geology made it a squabbled-over strategic possession for centuries, most recently held by the British. (The late Queen Elizabeth lived here as a young wife, and her one-time home will soon open as a museum.)

An aerial view of Camino, one of the country’s three islands
COURTESY OF VILLA BOLOGNA

Malta’s contemporary reputation has focused less on force than on finances, as the country has aimed to act as a Mediterranean answer to the Cayman Islands. Its favorable taxation regime burnished its appeal to wealthy Europeans, who can take up residency here and pay minimal taxes. A citizenship-by-investment program, in which a passport is yours for a million or so euros, has increased the numbers of high-net-worth residents from other regions, too. The policy has not been without controversy since the government introduced it in 2013 under former premier Joseph Muscat—and that administration remains embroiled in the scandal around the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia six years ago, which precipitated Muscat’s resignation in early 2020 and continues to swirl.

There has been tourism in Malta over the years, but it’s been mostly mass-market. Keen to rebuild after World War II, when the country underwent brutal bombardment by the Axis powers, the Maltese constructed cheap hotels that filled up with sun-seeking Britons and Germans, who provided much-needed economic stimulus in the 1960s and ’70s. But such package holidays are falling from favor, and locals are determined to lure a different caliber of client. “We can’t sustain huge amounts of people like that anymore,” says Maltese interior designer Francis Sultana, who’s based in London and is a cultural ambassador for his homeland, where he has a spectacular house. “Malta has to reinvent itself as a place to live that’s full of arts and culture and with a wonderful sea around it.”

The living room of interior designer—and local ambassador—Francis Sultana.
SUPPLIED

To that end, Malta is working to reposition itself via travel specialists, such as the luxury operator Red Savannah, which will introduce the country as a recommended destination this fall. Its interest reflects the rising profile for Malta among elite travelers, which is the hard-won product of the government’s concerted efforts to transform its audience, whether by underwriting new cultural assets, tendering abandoned buildings for renovation, or continuing to expand the citizenship-by-investment scheme. When the first such program filled its quota of 1,800 passports, the government simply launched a second one, slightly tweaked. The firm Latitude Residency and Citizenship helps interested would-be Maltese citizens navigate the red tape.

The Coral Lagoon, also known as Dragonara Cave, is a popular place for a swim at high tide—or taking Instagram shots at low tide.COURTESY OF VILLA BOLOGNA

Those new, wealthy tourists and part-time residents are a crucial customer base for Sophie and Rowley Edwards. Sophie grew up partly on the island and had always mulled a return. They were married at Bologna, the country house on whose estate the pottery sits. When she was pregnant with her first child, the now 4-year-old Rocco, the couple visited and found the ceramics workshop in a precarious state, operating with just three staff, including Aldo. “You’d rummage around in the basement and find old molds and bits of pottery,” she recalls. They set about relaunching the company, retaining its retro aesthetic but sharpening its approach to business. They’re now working with interior designers and private clients on custom commissions, all while building a restaurant in the stable block next door to the workshop, an all-day upscale Italian-accented café with its own garden.

Villa Bologna is in the village of Attard, a smallish settlement in the center of the island, but much of the new energy is focused on the country’s capital, postcard-pretty Valletta. Sitting on a rocky outcrop next to the deepest harbor on the northern coast, it was built as a single project in the 1570s, which conferred a pleasing uniformity to its architecture. The aesthetic is the same Ottoman-influenced style seen throughout Venice. Valletta was cannily master-planned in a grid layout, allowing sea breezes to pass through downtown as natural air-conditioning; even today, the shadier streets remain surprisingly cool in midsummer.

Sophie Edwards inside the pottery workshop she and her husband own on the villa’s grounds.
COURTESY OF VILLA BOLOGNA

The old structures here are being artfully redeployed. Take Renzo Piano’s 2015 parliament building, a rippled cube rendered in the same honeyed limestone used to erect its 16th-century neighbors. His initial plan to demolish the ruined former opera house next door proved controversial, so he instead repurposed the bomb-scarred site as an outdoor theater that serves as both a memorial and an amenity. Then there’s the one-time abattoir that reopened two years ago as the Valletta Design Cluster, a WeWork-meets-workshop complex aimed at creative startups whose primary-color-painted doors and windows have a whiff of De Stijl. Local architect David Felice and his firm, AP Valletta, are working on a major new home for the various artworks and tapestries from the city’s cathedral: a glass box grafted onto a series of old houses, earmarked for completion in 2024. And just outside the city walls is arguably the most ambitious creative project in the country: the Malta International Contemporary Art Space, or MICAS, which is set to open its 16,000 square feet of galleries next year.

It’s already a thrilling site to walk around. The iron-beamed skeleton for MICAS’s huge glass-walled rooms sits bolted to the remnants of the Old Ospizio, a 17th-century fortress that stored gunpowder safely away from Valletta proper. The museum’s modernist design, penned by the Florentine architecture firm IPO Studio, forms a stark contrast to those yellowish, weathered walls. Excavations unearthed ancient ruins—the Romans also saw the strategic value of these islands—and so forced the architects to rejigger their vision; another room now incorporates the big bricks into one of its walls.

On a sunny but brisk March day, the redoubtable chair of MICAS, Phyllis Muscat, picks her way through the site with curator and board member Georgina Portelli, proudly pointing to the rooftop sculpture garden, which will be home to temporary commissions and permanent pieces by the likes of Michele Oka Doner and Cristina Iglesias. They hope that MICAS will act as Malta’s answer to London’s Serpentine Galleries, a small but noteworthy space ideal for artistic takeovers, or the seaside Istanbul Modern. It’s already attracting attention: Sculptor Conrad Shawcross has committed to a site-specific installation this October, before the venue is even complete.

Similarly, Sultana, the interior designer, stresses that Malta’s move upscale is actually a return to its roots. Think back to the Knights of Malta, he suggests, the Christian order that combined chivalry, conquest, and care for the needy. Its aristocratic and international members, who helped take Jerusalem during the Crusades and ruled over parts of Greece, Italy, and, briefly, the Caribbean, in addition to Malta, left the island flush with their fortunes. “The Knights were very, very into luxury, so much gold leaf and great paintings,” Sultana says. “So people are not afraid of maximalism here.” He refers to the local aesthetic as “baroque and roll”—as much the Clash as Caravaggio. (Indeed, that serial rebel took refuge here in 1607, fleeing murder charges in Rome, and his largest work sits in the oratory of St. John’s Co-Cathedral.)

“I think of Malta as Marrakech in the Med,” says John Cooney, comparing these islands to the city where Yves Saint Laurent and his entourage formed a chic outpost of creative expats. Cooney is a Swiss Italian entrepreneur who moved to the island with his husband, Kevin Schwasinger, three years ago. Among other ventures, Cooney’s company Forbidden City designed and operated boutiques in Aman’s hotels for several years. He and Schwasinger now live in a converted palazzo originally built for one of the Knights of Malta but are developing a new five-bedroom hotel in a 17th-century complex in what is known as the Three Cities, a trio of towns that share Valletta’s harbor.

The hotel, called Cité Privée Maison Malte, is the first of an intended chain and will open in 18 months’ time alongside 20 residences located on nearby streets, also in old buildings that the couple are painstakingly restoring. Buyers can use the services of the hotel, and they can also deed the properties into the hotel’s rental pool for guests to book. Cooney says the appeal of developing beyond Valletta’s walls is that this part of the island hasn’t yet seen intense, mass tourism, despite being just a short boat ride away—you can take one of the luzzu, or Maltese gondolas, and glide across the harbor in less than 10 minutes. “This part is like living in an old Maltese village, before there were cars—for me that’s what is really enchanting,” he says. “You might have an old lady down the street screaming at the top of her lungs at her daughter, but other than that, there’s no noise.”

Cooney’s project will sit next to the Cospicua Super Yacht Marina, a new berth in the Three Cities with room for more than two dozen vessels at once. Malta has long been a destination for yacht repair—its yards jockey with Montenegro for primacy in the region—but there are now concerted efforts to encourage yachting tourism, too. Mike Mifsud runs Yachting Malta and has worked with the government on a new strategy. “The offering here is disjointed and not properly packaged, and it needs some polishing,” he tells Robb Report. Mifsud points out that despite the deep waters surrounding the country where superyachts can easily stop, including a marina in the northeastern city of Msida, there’s a missed opportunity along the rugged southern coast. The area has no marina, but all that’s needed to accommodate large superyachts are a few ocean-floor moorings. The major dive sites lack moorings, too, though prime spots are plentiful; Malta’s place at the center of the Mediterranean means that ships have wrecked here since Phoenician times. The lack of luxury retail is a factor as well, while tendering across from the Three Cities to Valletta is complicated because there’s nowhere to tie up upon arrival. By the middle of this year, though, Mifsud says that the government should have approved a full-scale superyacht strategy.
The other major issue for Malta’s pivot to luxury tourism is even more critical: places to stay. Put simply, luxury accommodation is scarce. It’s a legacy, in part, of the way the British treated this possession. Unlike Madeira, Malta became merely a depot rather than a destination, strategically important but rarely considered worth visiting. As a result, there’s no grand Victorian-era hotel that would now be ready for a rebirth. The two best-known inns date back to the post-war boom: Corinthia Palace, in Attard, and the Phoenicia, just outside Valletta’s main gates. Neither is a truly five-star property, though both have plans to upgrade. Sultana has been engaged to overhaul the former’s public spaces and suites, while the latter has mulled adding a series of stand-alone luxury villas overlooking the local marina.
The Jungle Room at the Iniala Hotel, one of Malta’s few true luxury stays.
COURTESY OF INIALA HOTEL

Most exciting, though, is the raft of new hotels that are set to open, such as Casa Bonavita, a project by Sophie Edwards’s parents, Christopher and Suzanne Sharp, in a 1760 Baroque mansion they acquired about 12 years ago. The couple are the founders of interiors firm the Rug Company, and Suzanne is Maltese. “We’ve always had the problem that people say to us, ‘Where should I stay in Malta?’ And it’s really difficult, so we started thinking about the house we bought—it’s so large, it was a bit of a folly,” Christopher says of the site, which they’ve since painstakingly repurposed into a 17-room hotel set to bow next spring.

The government is supporting such efforts. It has put a grand former office in central Valletta on the market, expressly for conversion into a high-end hotel; the winning bid will be announced this summer. One of those chasing the deal is British businessman Mark Weingard, who moved to Malta from Spain a decade ago for the financial upsides but quickly embraced the island and its culture. He opened the first truly upscale hotel here, Iniala, which straddles several historic townhomes overlooking that harbor. “When you walk around Valletta, you can get confused,” Weingard says. “It’s this fusion of East and West, a mix of Jerusalem and Venice.” Another mark of his confidence in the destination’s uptick: He has just installed L’Enclume’s three-Michelin-starred chef, Simon Rogan, at the Michelin-starred Ion Harbour restaurant, only Rogan’s second site outside England.

But the biggest project is far from Valletta—indeed, it’s on another island entirely: Comino. Barely 1.4 square miles in size, Comino is mostly a protected habitat now, having once been farmland. Just one resident remains, a man in his 70s who lives self-sufficiently on a small plot. There is modern construction on Comino, though, and it’s yet another legacy of that rush to mass tourism in the wake of World War II: two connected sites, on the island’s northern coast, one a hotel complex and the other a series of hotel-operated villas. They’d slumped from their hey-day, booked mostly to package vacationers, and were shuttered four years ago. Malta’s government hoped to hand the sites over to a new developer who would reimagine them entirely for luxury tourism—and that entity was Malta-based Hili Ventures.

Now surrounded by metal fencing, the abandoned buildings have an eerie quality, shabby but solidly constructed with little consideration for the surrounding countryside. The landscape is typical of Malta: low-lying brushland, free of trees, with clusters of shrubs huddled together against the winds. Hili hopes that a recently announced deal with luxury hotelier Six Senses to operate the property will single-handedly draw luxury travelers from around the world to Malta. Only time will tell.”

The Lowdown

GETTING THERE No airlines offer long-haul flights to Valletta, so most North American visitors arrive via a European hub. For charters within Europe, the Maltese private-jet facility is located at the main airport but has its own stand-alone terminal; try Hans Jet for reasonable options. La Valette Club can handle VIP customs and arrival.

GETTING AROUND The archipelago’s roads can be chaotic. It’s smartest to hire a driver to scoot around the islands without white knuckles; Dacoby has the best chauffeurs.

ACCOMMODATIONS The top choice is Valletta’s Iniala Harbour House, with 23 rooms and suites. There are five penthouse-suite-style options—the best, dubbed the Lucija, boasts a private plunge pool. The four-bedroom Hideaway, an annexed property a few doors down from the main hotel, is available for buyouts, too. From about $382 per night.

RESTAURANTS In Valletta, try the Harbour Club for sundowners. Gracy’s, owned and operated by British businessman Greg Nasmyth and his wife, Samantha Rowe-Beddoe, is a members’ club whose brasserie is open to the public: Come on a Sunday for a buzzy afternoon scene or book the plush private karaoke room downstairs. Noni is one of the city’s six restaurants with Michelin stars, run by local chef Jonathan Brincat and his sister and maître d’, Ritienne. The food is playful and unstuffy: Order the superb, deconstructed prawn cocktail.

Outside the city, try Carmen’s, a waterfront bar and restaurant on Għar Lapsi on the south coast—casual but disarmingly delicious, especially on a warm spring day. Il Corsaro, in the historic town of Żurrieq, is owned and run by an old Italian; think freshly made pasta, menus on chalkboards, and a room full of hungry locals.

ACTIVITIES Malta doesn’t have many appealing sandy beaches; instead, expect craggy edges at the waters. Head down to the southern coast for the quietest perches: The swimming holes at Wied iz-Zurrieq are reachable from the rocks, as is the Blue Grotto arch there; the sea off Ghar Lapsi is easily swimmable, too. The walks in and around Dingli Cliffs are spectacular in the late afternoon. For diving, the oldest local club is Atlam SAC; standout sites include the Bristol Beaufighter World War II wreck at 124 feet or the SS Polynesian, a French liner sunk during World War I that lies at 223 feet.

OPERATORS Fischer Travel and Red Savannah, both Robb Report Travel Masters, have expertise in the islands. Note that weather is mostly pleasant year-round, but try to avoid January and February, which can be rainy and cold; December is often surprisingly balmy, while midsummer will be brutally hot.

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Watch of the Week: Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph

Roger Dubuis unveils its innovative chronograph collection in Australia for the very first time.

By Josh Bozin 21/05/2024

When avant-garde Swiss watchmaker Roger Dubuis revealed its highly anticipated Chronograph Collection halfway through 2023, it was a testament to its haute horology department in creating such a technical marvel for everyday use. Long at the forefront of cutting-edge design and technological excellence, Roger Dubuis (pronounced Ro-ger Du-BWEE) is no stranger to such acclaim.

Now, fans down under will finally get a taste of the collection that made headlines, with the official Australian unveiling of its Chronograph Collection. Representing precision engineering, extraordinary craftsmanship, and audacious design, this collection, now in its fifth generation, continues to redefine the chronograph category.

Roger Dubuis Australia welcomes the Excalibur Spider Collection to the market, featuring the exquisite Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph, as well as the Excalibur Spider Revuelto Flyback Chronograph (a timepiece made in partnership with Lamborghini Squadra Corse). Each model speaks at lengths to the future of ‘Hyper Horology’—watchmaking, as Roger Dubuis puts it, that pushes the boundaries of traditional watchmaking.

Roger Dubuis

“Roger Dubuis proposes a unique blend of contemporary design and haute horlogerie and the Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph is the perfect illustration of this craft,” says Sadry Keiser, Chief Marketing Officer. “For its design, we took inspiration from the MonovortexTM Split-Seconds Chronograph, while we decided to power the timepiece with an iconic complication, the flyback chronograph, also marking its come back in the Maison’s collections.”

The Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph is bold and flashy—a chronograph made to be seen, especially at its 45mm size. But Roger Dubuis wouldn’t have it any other way. The supercar-inspired watch is certainly captivating in the flesh. Its multi-dimensional design reveals different layers of technical genius as you spend time with it: from its case crafted from lightweight carbon to its hyper-resistant ceramic bezel, black DLC titanium crown, open case back with sapphire crystal, and elegant rubber strap to tie the watch together, it’s a sporty yet incredibly refined timepiece.

The new RD780 chronograph calibre powers the chronograph, a movement fully integrated with two patents: one linked to the second hand of the chronograph and the other to the display of the minute counter. The chronograph also features a flyback function.

The complete set is now available at the Sydney Boutique for those wishing to see the Roger Dubuis Chronograph Collection firsthand.

Roger-Dubuis

 

Roger-Dubuis

Model: Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph
Diameter: 45mm
Material: C-SMC Carbon case
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: RD780 calibre
Complication: Chronograph, date
Functions: hours, minutes, and central seconds
Power reserve: 72 hours

Bracelet: Black rubber strap

Availability: upon request
Price: $150,000


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Federer and Nadal Team Up in New Louis Vuitton Ad

Just in time for the French Open, Louis Vuitton serves up a winning new campaign.

By 19/05/2024

They have scaled the dizzying heights of tennis, and now great rivals and friends Roger Federer and friend Rafael Nadal climb a majestic mountaintop in the new Louis Vuitton campaign.

The latest installment of the LV’s storied Core Values series of ads, once again shot by renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, reunites two tennis legends who have not faced off against each other since Wimbledon 2019. (Federer retired in 2022 and in his last match teamed up with Nadal in doubles, with the pair famously crying and holding hands afterwards.)

Three thousand metres high in the Italian Dolomites and in less familiar attire than their usual on-court drag, Federer sports a classic Monogram Christopher Backpack that is every bit as elegant as his balletic prowess, while Nadal’s is a fittingly dynamic Monogram Eclipse version.

The campaign recalls the brand’s 2010 grouping of soccer legends Diego Maradona, Pelé and Zinedine Zidane.  

Louis Vuitton’s 2010 campaign featuring Diego Maradona, Pelé and Zinedine Zidane in Madrid’s Café Maravillas. Photo: Annie Leibowitz for Louis Vuitton.

“I know how many important icons have been part of this campaign,” says Nadal. “Being part of it is something I am very proud of—especially sharing it with Roger who has been my biggest rival and is now a close friend.”

Federer adds, “It’s a unique opportunity to be working on this campaign with Rafa. How we could be such great rivals and at the end of our careers be beside each other doing this campaign is very cool.” Tennis fans everywhere agree.

Watch the behind-the-scenes video shot of the new Louis Vuitton campaign.

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Will Smith, Tom Brady And More Celebs Are Team Owners in a New Electric-Boat League

Will all that star power deliver?

By J. George Forant 16/05/2024

At one point during the debut broadcast of the world’s first electric-boat racing circuit, an on-air host stands on a platform overlooking the water and pummels the camera with enthusiasm: “I hope you’re ready for a landmark moment that can change the future of water transportation. The nerves, the excitement, the energy, it’s electric!” Behind her, a few dozen people mill about, leaning on a rail, drinking coffee, staring at their phones. One turns to look at her as if he’d like to ask her to keep it down.

That singular image might best encapsulate the cognitive dissonance that permeates the new UIM E1 Series Championship.

Take the boats. They look like remnants from a Star Wars movie, with long tapered noses leading to a glass-enclosed cockpit flanked on each side by a curving wing that acts as a hydrofoil, allowing the hulls fly over the surface while sending off huge sprays of white foam—but they’re nearly silent and, while they have explosive acceleration, they reach a top speed that wouldn’t even merit a ticket on an interstate.

The Racebird could be out of a Star Wars movie, which is not far off, given its futuristic foils and hyper-drive.
E1 RACING

Then there are the team owners, a mélange of famous people who don’t necessarily bring to mind boats or racing. For that matter, they don’t really have anything to do with one another. Sorry, but it’s going to take more than a few brief hype videos and a recorded Zoom call in which the eight celebrities playfully talk trash before anyone believes the relationship between, say, NFL legend Tom Brady and pop singer Marc Anthony contains any real competitive juice.

There’s also the meeting of mission and money. The series defines itself as “committed to healing our coastal waters and ecosystems . . . through innovative clean technologies and aquatic regeneration.” But Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which controls more than $USD700 billion in cash largely derived from oil production, holds a chunk of equity and occupies the top sponsorship space. (Disclosure: Saudi Arabia’s Research and Media Group has invested in Penske Media Corporation, Robb Report‘s parent company).

The series had its first race in Jeddah, with the next scheduled for Venice on May 12. Expansion plans include 15 races globally.
E1 RACING

None of it quite seems to go together, and yet, by many measures that first race, held on an inlet of the Red Sea in Jeddah on Feb. 3, was a success. Expect a ninth team headed by a famous Hollywood actor. The series will host seven more races this year, starting on the waterways of Venice on May 12.

All of which raises the question: Can this actually work?

“Boat racing has never really caught on,” admits Powerboat P1 CEO Azam Rangoonwala, who’s been in offshore racing for more than 20 years and is also a principal on E1’s Team Aoki. “We got involved with E1 because we see an opportunity to finally make that breakthrough happen.”

In 2020, Rodi Basso spent a fair part of the year trying to visualise life after the pandemic. Unlike many others, Basso wasn’t so much longing for the way things had been, as attempting to conjure what new world would emerge.

An aerospace engineer who’d transitioned into motorsports, he’d held jobs at Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren Applied Technologies, but he’d recently stepped aside and moved to England in pursuit of some then-undetermined new challenge.

When the world shut down, he started running to stay fit and get out of the house, excursions on which he was often joined by Alejandro Agag, who lived nearby. Agag had founded Formula E and Extreme E, each a successful racing series featuring electric vehicles. The pair had met when Basso, through McLaren, developed an improved battery pack that allowed Formula E drivers to complete a race on a single charge.

E1 founder Alejandro Agag, Racebird designer Sophi Horne and CEO Rodi Basso established the electric raceboat circuit following Agag’s success with Formula E.
E1 RACING

Basso, an Italian, and Agag, from Spain, debated the next big thing as they traversed the streets of London. Agag had invested in a start-up, Seabird, that was working on a foiling electric boat, and he asked Basso to help with the engineering. That simple request quickly morphed into a new idea—an electric boat racing series.

Perhaps no two individuals were better positioned to make it happen, and that night Basso created a deck summarizing the concept. The next day, he sent it to Agag who immediately signed on. The E1 World Championship Racing series was born amid expectations that it would become the next trending motorsports entity.

Within months they’d secured exclusive rights to stage electric boat races for 25 years through UIM, the international racing organization, and landed the PIF deal. Asked about the irony of Saudi oil money underwriting a series with a mission of “promoting sustainable energy use in marine sports,” and about assertions of greenwashing and sportswashing, Basso looked away from his computer screen.

CEO Basso, an aerospace engineer with a background in F1 racing, designed the electric drivetrain while Horne designed the foiler.

Turning back, he offered a joke and then framed his answer in terms of investing strategies: “I focus on the day-to-day job of the people working at PIF who study markets and industries and place bets on what will bring the highest return. In that sense, it’s a privilege to be noticed and have that initial funding.”

Asked a similar question via email, Brady chooses not to respond, but otherwise replies: “This is a new competition and it has great growth potential, so it was a no-brainer for me to be involved with E1.”

Basso later adds another point: “PIF’s money allowed us to get going. It paid for the development of the boat and the series. Now we have to stand on our own as a functioning business.”

What will that look like?

Location, location, location. Part of the difficulty for boat racing has been the “where.” Contests usually took place offshore or on small—often remote—lakes that offered flat calm, neither of which are particularly spectator friendly.

In recent years, the Sail GP series has solved that problem with a global race circuit featuring smaller, more maneuverable versions of full America’s Cup boats slugging it out on metropolitan waterways, such as San Francisco Bay and Sydney Harbor. In contrast to traditional America’s Cup racing yachts, the smaller SailGP boats also reduce the costs of building, maintaining, outfitting, and shipping them to races around the world.

“When I decided to get into electric, I researched how to compete with combustion engines, which led to foils,” says Sophi Horne, the CEO of Seabird, who designed the boat for E1. “I started with a cruiser for seven people, but then Alejandro and Rodi asked me to switch focus to a race boat and that led to the Racebird. At seven meters (23 feet), it can run at top speed for roughly 40 minutes.”
E1 has followed the same approach as SailGP, with one-class, techy raceboats, a global tour and extensive social media exposure.
SAILGP

Besides that, the boat looks sleek, part spaceship, part waterbug, as it skitters above the surface. And while 50 knots (92.5 kmph) on a boat is fast—especially an open boat low to the water—it’s not an attention-getting number to the general public. Still, the Racebirds distinguish themselves with a burst of acceleration that’s visible when they compete.

The power comes from a Mercury outboard built specifically for the purpose, with input from Seabird. It has a booster that jacks the output from 100 kilowatts to 150 for 20 seconds per minute, adding to the notable jumps in speed and putting a focus on driver skill and strategy. Each team has two pilots—as they’re called—one male and one female, who alternate turns behind the wheel through a qualifying round, the semi-finals and finals.

“We’re now packaging the propulsion system to sell to other builders,” says Horne. “What drives me is the mission to electrify boats, so we want to partner with other companies out there and help build the infrastructure with fast charging that we’ll need.”

ach team has one female and one male driver who both race. Team Brady’s Emma Kimiläinen and Sam Coleman won race 1 in Jeddah.
E1 RACING

The series’s green agenda goes beyond pushing the development of electric engines, high-output batteries and hydrofoils, which reduce drag in increase efficiency by lifting the boat’s hull out of the water. E1 intends to employ sustainable practices on-site at events—including the use of local vendors—and install and leave in place high-speed electric charging stations at each locale.

According to its website, organizers will collaborate on coastal restoration projects and education initiatives directed by chief scientist Carlos Duarte, an ocean ecology professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

“One of the barriers to ownership and sponsorship in powerboat racing has been the sustainability question,” says Rangoonwala of Powerboat P1. “E1 answers that question up front by building it into the mission.”

Whatever seeming contradictions arise from the use of PIF funds, the series has already had a real-world impact. Mercury Marine has incorporated much of the technology it developed for the Racebird engines into its Avator electric outboards. More than 12,000 Avators have been built in the last year. “Racebird was a good place for us to start,” David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick Corp., Mercury’s parent, tells Robb Report. “It was a way to gain experience in a controlled environment, where the boats are centrally maintained.”

F1’s Sergio Perez was the first A-lister to sign up, followed by tennis great Rafael Nadal. The others soon followed.
GETTY IMAGES

Basso calls Agag a “marketing genius” for the way he tapped into existing audiences for Formula E and Extreme E by luring well-known names from Formula 1 and extreme racing—and their social media followings—into the fold. It’s a proven approach, but one that would not work for E1. “Unfortunately, in powerboat racing, there are no star drivers or famous owners,” Basso says.

The alternative involved finding celebrities from other walks of life to invest in teams. “First, we approached Sergio Perez and evidently our presentation was done right because he joined, then Rafa Nadal signed up,” Basso says. “The rest came as a consequence of a sort of missing-out syndrome, which worked out nicely for us.”

The sell might have been easy, but the selections reflect the sort of calculated demographic cross-section that would make a pollster drool. Besides Brady, the white American hero of seven Super Bowls, Smith, the Black Hollywood superstar, Nadal, the internationally known Spanish tennis star, Anthony, the Grammy-winning musician with Latino roots, and Perez, a Formula 1 driver from Mexico, there’s Didier Drogba, a Black European soccer icon from Ivory Coast; Steve Aoki, a world-renown DJ of Japanese descent; Virat Kohli, a cricket star from India; and Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian tech entrepreneur.

All appear engaged at the outset, sitting for video interviews and promoting the series on social media. Four showed up for the opening race and Brady plans to be in Venice. “I’ve been involved in a few things since retiring but this racing series has been incredible,” Brady tells Robb Report. “I love competition and racing. Seeing the vision of the sport come to life has been very fun and fulfilling.”

Basso says he and Agag intentionally created a “business mechanism that would give owners skin in the game and keep them engaged.” The owners put up €2 million (about $2.15 million) to license a team. E1 owns the series and the boats and handles all the logistics, including transportation, for which they charge teams another €1 million. The buy-in, Basso says, will go up for Year 2, since three of the original eight license holders have already resold them at five times the initial investment.

To ensure those values keep rising, E1 plans to cap the series at 12 or 15 teams competing in 15 races, hopefully by Year 3, with five events in Asia, five in the Mid-East/Europe and five in the West, where potential venues include Miami, Mexico and Brazil.

To help control costs, the boats must run as they come out of the box, and though teams can hire as many engineers as they want back at headquarters, they can’t have more than seven crew members, including drivers, on the dock during races.

The concept, launched in Venice in 2022, will return there this weekend.
MERCURY MARINE

“They made some really smart decisions to limit costs at the outset,” says Ben King, one of of Team Brady’s co-principals. “The plan is to start modifying the boats in Year 3, which would mean greater outlays for teams, but by then, hopefully, the circuit will be well established.”

Teams can bring on sponsors outside those attached to the wider series, including everything from patches on pilot uniforms to on-the-boat decals to partnerships that showcase technology. Visibility shouldn’t be a problem. E1 has both linear and streaming deals with 120 broadcasters that range from Asia through India, MENA, Europe, and the Americas, where CBS owns the US television rights.

In all, E1 says its global reach extends to 1.7 billion people, and media coverage of the Jeddah race in February had a total reach of 2.1 billion, with 125 million digital impressions. “For the first race, we are pleased,” Basso says. “We have a long way in front of us, but we are pleased.”

On the course at Jeddah, the four finalists line up for the rolling start of the final race, among them Team Brady. As the boats pass the marker buoy signaling the beginning of the first-ever E1 championship, three surge ahead while the Brady boat founders and wobbles forward, dropping to last.

In the previous heat, Brady’s Emma Kimiläinen finished third, meaning teammate Sam Coleman has to not just win the heat but make up the time deficit to claim the title. As the boats approach the first turn, Coleman mashes the booster and jolts forward, closing the gap and creating a three-boat bottleneck around the first buoy.

The scene turns chaotic as the boats speed through the curve within yards of each other and geysers of whitewater and churning wakes fill the space around them. Emerging into the straight, they jockey for the lead. “Racing these boats is super intense—insane,” says Coleman. “The trick is constantly managing the foil height. Too much power and the boat will drop and you’ll lose speed. The working window is so small, and while you don’t have engine noise, there’s feedback through cavitation and vibration that you have to learn to feel.”

Staying on the foils is tricky, but key to winning.
E1 RACING

Most of the drivers have come from other disciplines, motorcycles, cars, even Jet Skis and WaveRunners. Coleman started in motocross, then teamed with his sister to become a world champion and two-time U.K. champ in P1 Powerboat. Whether it’s that experience or his feel for his craft, Coleman’s boat levels and rises high on its foils as it shoots to the front.

Through the next turns, Coleman’s lead builds, creating another bit of intrigue. The course layout consists of a small oval inside a larger one, something like a paperclip. Over a five-lap race, each driver must circumnavigate the inner oval four times and the outer once. As Coleman continues to pull away, the question of when to take the long lap rises.

The Racebird and electric engines will be redesigned for season 2 if the series is successful.
E1 RACING

And while that gives the announcers something to talk about, it also highlights a shortcoming. The moments of close-quarters racing, the nuance of working the trim and booster and the strategic quirk of the long lap all make for good, engaging viewing. At the same time, the difficulty of keeping the boats running clean on the foils and the long lap spread the field, sapping most of the drama from the action. Those instances of intense, close-quarters racing are few and far between.

Ultimately, that’s what success will come down to: Will people understand the level of skill and strategy on display and will the competition hold up? A sustainability mission and a few 30-second hype videos from Tom Brady (whose team pulled through in Jeddah as the winner) provide a sense of purpose and attract eyeballs, but for people to continually show up and tune in—to pay up—the races themselves have to deliver.

Formula E and Extreme have made it work. Will E1? Ladies and gentlemen, start your very-quiet engines.

 

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10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Porsche

The automaker is a sports car standard-bearer with a long, impressive history in racing.

By Bob Sorokanich 16/05/2024

Porsche has long stood at the pinnacle of automotive achievement. The automaker has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 19 times—more than any other competitor—and has successfully competed in everything from rally racing to Formula 1. The history of Porsche vehicle production is equally impressive, as the company rose from the rubble of World War II to become one of the most widely recognised luxury and performance brands in the world today. Let’s dive into the history of Porsche with 10 facts you might not have known about the German brand.

Photo: Keystone

Ferdinand Porsche was born in 1875 in what is now the Czech Republic. Despite the fact that he had little formal education, from an early age Porsche was recognised as a brilliant engineer. In 1901, Porsche built the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, a motorised carriage that used a Daimler internal-combustion engine to generate power for electric motors in the wheels. Soon, Porsche was hired as technical director of Stuttgart-based Daimler, where he worked on Mercedes race cars including the hugely successful Mercedes-Benz SSK.

Photo: Fox Photos

In 1931, Ferdinand Porsche launched the company that still bears his name today. It wasn’t a car-building operation: Dr. Ing h.c. F. Porsche GmbH was a consulting agency, supplying design and engineering expertise to various automakers. Soon after launching his company, Ferdinand Porsche received an assignment directly from German Chancellor Adolf Hitler: A project to build a simple, durable, affordable vehicle that could be purchased by everyday Germans, codenamed Volkswagen, or “people’s car.”

Photo: Topical Press Agency

Ferdinand Porsche unveiled the first Volkswagen prototype in 1935; in 1939, the Volkswagen factory began production, with Ferdinand Porsche appointed as an executive. As part of his work with the government of Nazi Germany, Porsche renounced his Czechoslovak citizenship, joined the Nazi Party, and became a member of the SS paramilitary group. Ferdinand Porsche contributed to the design and engineering of Nazi tanks and troop transport vehicles, and after World War II ended, he was arrested for war crimes including the use of forced labor, serving 20 months in prison in France.

Photo: DOMINIK HILDEBRANDT

Following the end of World War II, Ferdinand Porsche’s son, Ferry, sought to build a sports car according to his father’s vision. In 1947, the first examples of the Porsche 356 were assembled in a small sawmill in Gmünd, Austria, where the Porsche family had moved operations to avoid Allied bombing. The 356 bore some resemblance to the Volkswagen, and like that vehicle, it used a rear-mounted four-cylinder engine along with some other VW components.

Photo: Porsche

Porsche built several versions of the 356 until 1965, but by the end, the vehicle was badly out-of-date. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, grandson of the company’s founder, designed a new rear-engine sports car, this time with an air-cooled six-cylinder engine. The company intended to call this model 901, which was the internal code-name for the project, but Peugeot owned the trademark on all three-digit model numbers with a zero in the middle, so the name was swiftly changed to 911.

Photo: Wesley

Porsche found racing success with the 356, 911, and various competition-only prototypes, but the automaker’s rise to motorsport dominance began with the 917. First shown publicly in 1969, the 917 was the brainchild of Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche who would later go on to lead the entire Volkswagen Group. The race car used an air-cooled mid-mounted flat-12 engine, and it was so compact, the driver’s feet sat ahead of the front axle. After some early developmental troubles, the 917 became a dominant endurance racer, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Monza 1,000km, the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans back-to-back in 1970 and 1971. The 917 was a monster, reliably cresting 230 mph at Le Mans in an era when the typical racing prototype couldn’t break 200, and it launched Porsche on a path to becoming the winningest manufacturer in Le Mans history.

Photo: Porsche

The late 1970s were difficult for sports car companies, and in 1980 Porsche had its first year of financial losses. The 911 had gone without significant updates and was slated for cancellation, with the front-engine, V8-powered 928 intended to replace it. Newly-appointed CEO Peter Schutz, who was born in Germany but was raised in the U.S., realised that the impending death of the 911—considered the quintessential Porsche sports car—was contributing to low morale at Porsche. Schutz walked into the office of chief Porsche engineer Helmuth Bott, where a chart showed continued production of the 928 and 944, and the end of 911 production in 1981. In a scene that has become legend, Schultz took a marker from Bott’s desk, extending the 911’s line off the chart, onto the office wall, and out the door—signifying that the 911 would never be canceled. “Do we understand each other?” Schultz asked, and Bott nodded in the affirmative.

Photo: Porsche

In 1986, Porsche unveiled a supercar that shared the general shape of the 911, but was shockingly advanced in nearly every way: The 959. Developed to compete in Group B rally racing, the street-legal 959 had a twin-turbo engine making 326 kilowatts, Kevlar composite bodywork, wide-body fenders, and all-wheel drive. It soon became the fastest production car in the world, sprinting from zero to 96 in 3.7 seconds and reaching a 317 kmph top speed.

Photo: Porsche

Amazingly, from 1963 to 1997, Porsche never undertook a full redesign of the 911. In 1998, a brand-new sports car emerged. Internally known as Type 996, the all-new 911 had a completely redesigned body shell and an all-new flat-six engine that, for the first time, was cooled by water rather than air. Early 996s shared their front bodywork and some interior panels with the more affordable mid-engine Boxster, causing some controversy among Porsche fans, but today the 996 is considered the model that saved the Porsche 911.

Photo : Porsche

In 2002, Porsche introduced the Cayenne, the automaker’s first sport-utility vehicle. A few years later, in 2009, the four-door Panamera luxury sedan was launched. Today, Porsche’s best-selling model is the Macan, a small SUV, with the Cayenne not far behind. The automaker also sells an all-electric sport sedan, the Taycan, and is moving toward the future with plans for hybrid and all-electric sports cars.

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Sitting on the Dock of Balmain

Is The Dry Dock Sydney’s Hottest New Pub Renovation?

By Belinda Aucott-christie 15/05/2024

At its peak, in the late 1890s, Balmain had 55 pubs. They were noisy watering holes that serviced thirsty hordes after a day’s labour at the suburb’s harbourside coal mine and shipyards. Today, Balmain is dotted with charming workers’ cottages set behind picket fences and stolid corner pubs, which have been converted into restaurants and homes.

One such establishment, the Dry Dock on Cameron Street, has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation. As an original public house built in 1857, it remains fixed in a local backstreet and offers a porthole to the suburb’s blue-collar roots.

Locals can still bring their dogs into the front bar, or retreat to the lounge to sit next to a crackling log fire. 

The renovation carried out by Studio Isgro and H&E Architects combines rustic touches—like the acid-etched sandstone exterior, exposed brickwork and beams  —with elegant light fittings, an incredible sound system and tasteful art. “It has a transportive, escapist quality, where you could be anywhere, or right at home,” says interior designer Bianca Isgro of Studio Isgro, who spent two years on the overhaul. Her team designed a modern gastropub on the site after gutting and stripping the building, which had been neglected for years. 

Founder and managing director James Ingram (ex-Solotel and Merivale) has assembled a warm, friendly service team that matches the pub’s character. He says his team has fought hard to preserve the pub’s long-standing connection to residents and to get the mix of old and new right.

“Balmain is home to so many devoted residents who are rightly proud of the suburb’s working-class roots,” says Ingram over a frothy beer in the warm-toned front bar.

“The Dry Dock has been designed to have that timeless feel that stands the test of time.” 

The large open kitchen features an oyster bar and serves French-style fare, delicious sides, and hot desserts. The wine list is on point, with something in every price range and a friendly sommelier doing the rounds. 

The kitchen is led by seasoned chef Ben Sitton, who previously rattled the pans at institutions including Felix, Uccello and Rockpool Bar & Grill. His kitchen faces a large dining room with unclothed tables, bentwood chairs, tumbled marble floors and exposed trusses that give it a contemporary feel.

The back of the room overlooks a walled garden, with a giant ghost gum at its centre and views of neighbouring residential fences. 

 

Chef Sitton says his team relishes the opportunity to cook from an expansive modern European repertoire with quality produce. The robust flavours and textures are centred around the smoky quality that comes from Josper charcoal grills, wood-fired ovens, and the rotisserie.  

You can order steak frites with charred baby carrots, or baked market fish with a cheesy, potato gratin.

The Peninsula Hospitality Group, the team behind Dry Dock, is now looking to expand its foothold in Balmain by opening at least one other venue.

Visit for the food, stay for the vibe.

The Dry Dock, Public House & Dining Room, 22 Cameron Street, Balmain, NSW 2041. P: 02 9555 1306; drydock.com.au

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