“First Sardinia, Then the World!”
Riddle is whisked away to sunny Sardinia for a slice of the high life – and sailing thrills
Article by Donald B. McFarlane
To paraphrase Ghostbusters, if someone asks you if you want to go to a warm Mediterranean island all expenses paid, “you say yes!” The instructions were to pack my bags on be on the only BA flight to Olbia on the north east coast of Sardinia the next day…. Once there I was to make contact with an Aussie/Italian named Anna, she’d have all the details.
Once the details became clear I realised that it sounded like an ominous assignment with overtones of extreme personal danger. It was the combination of fast boats and fast automobiles that caught my attention. Nevertheless, I packed my bags, slept and was en-route to Heathrow bright and early, unsure of what to expect other than sun and speed. Once on the ground in Olbia, the sun already began to make me regret the lack of linen in the wardrobe.
After meeting the rest of the group, we hopped in a van for a quick drive up towards Porto Cervo and our hotel, Colonna Pevero. Briefed on the itinerary, we quickly changed into sailing kit and reappeared in the lobby post-haste for a quick jaunt on Maserati’s uber fast trimaran, the Multi70.
Driven up the coast to a lovely little harbour, we cast our eyes on a myriad of mega-yachts floating on the crystal clear waters that surround Sardinia. We were in for a spectacular treat of having the highly skilled, multi-national crew of the Maserati’s M70 take us for a run north towards Corsica under the command of a skipper who looked like Fernando Alonso’s father. Life jackets securely fastened (health and safety has reached Italy), we boarded the stripped down racer and shoved off from port, the sun on our backs, and a strong breeze promising a memorable experience.
For someone who rarely gets on the water, the short trip to the mouth of the harbour was already thrilling enough, the captain and his team expertly moving about the cramped deck-space tightening this rope, moving that, but once we reached open seas the sails were unfurled, the hairs went up on the back of my neck just about as fast as the boat accelerated from a doddle to a screaming 30 plus knots. So long Sardinia, hello open water!
With every metre travelled forward, the boat shook up and down in micro vibrations as it cut over the waves using every puff of wind to dash away from the rocky coastline under the care of a seadog with decades of racing experience under his belt, constantly shouting out clear and decisive instructions to his crew who executed his orders with military like precision, jumping from here to there to tighten, loosen, move, shift, crank or twist whatever it may be to squeeze another knot out of the handcrafted speed-machine.
The thing about Sardinia, and even more true about the north of the island, is that it’s all about BIG mega-yachts. Big size, big crew, big motor, and big price tags. Function isn’t a top priority, nor is practicality. It’s all about who has the biggest and baddest dog on the block. The Trimaran is all about one thing: results. To quote Gannicus when asked how to become champion: “Never fucking lose.” Well that is the mission that Maserati has assigned this function over form rocket-ship. Come September/October it’s game on for the boat and her crew with the first race of the season from Monaco to Porto Cervo. This is followed up by races in the Med through the fall before moving across the Atlantic and ending with a final race to Hawaii at the end of the season. This ship was built like the Dream Team, not to just win, but to dominate.
After a sharp U-turn, we headed back to port in search of nourishment, it was getting late and lunch was needed. As I sat in the shade enjoying my meal of insanely fresh squid, I started to notice a few things about this rarefied part of the world. In addition to being next to a Rolls Royce dealership, and not far from a near identical pair of Lambos, I was starting to notice a propaganda war-zone that had been established between Audi and Maserati. It was at that point I remembered that I had seen Audi sponsored cars at the airport in Olbia and an Audi display car right next to the port. As my time on Sardinia went on I noticed that this and that venue would have a Maserati or Audi parked outside. It was like you were either in an Audi or Maserati occupied zone. Nowhere was safe from the influentially seductive curves of an Italian beauty or a German motor.
Post lunch we were back to the hotel just in time for a lovely dip in the pool before heading to the lobby before being shipped to the next part of the Maserati trunk show, a lounge in the hyper exclusive Porto Cervo shopping centre. Think Bal Harbour then multiple its elegance and sophistication by a factor of ten. The cheapest thing on offer was Hermès. The lounge was overflowing with Ferrari Brut (Ferrari, really?), and stocked with products ranging from trainers to watches and even bicycles, the shop offered something for anyone with a penchant for the Maserati lifestyle.
Transporting us towards dinner in our two Quatroportes was a driver who was half MMA fighter, half racer. As our man behind the wheel teleported us along the windy coastal roads at speed I asked if he enjoyed driving the car. His response was instantaneous and classic. “It’s like asking an Italian if they like pasta!” he said, mashing his foot down on the accelerator causing a roar to be unleashed from the back of the car as it sunk its claws into the road and went from a tame executive saloon car to a heat seeking missile tearing towards the poor bastard in the Volvo 100 yards down the road. The sight of a blacked-out piece of Italian muscle bearing down on the driver must have sent a shiver up their spines, at the same time it put a smile on our faces. This car wasn’t just another 7 Series or S Class. This was a sexed up Italian with strength, power and grace. Move out of the way Germany, Maserati has arrived and it’s about time the world took notice.
Our venue for dinner was Phi Beach and the Gancarlo Morelli Restaurant. On the north coast of Sardinia and offers gorgeous views of the sun as it sets over the water to the west, all the while offering a unique setting having been built into and around the ruins of an historic fort. A very eclectic mix of guests dined in the Michelin rated restaurant or boogied on the dance floor, but one thing was certain, they all had money. The Qataris that owned this small slice of the world have ensured that no commoners can get within a county-mile by keeping low cost hotels out, and every restaurant out of the price range of normal people. As a result, Phi Beach gives you that St Tropez vibe that makes me want to vomit, but somehow manages to be slightly more refined.
A meal comprised of four courses went by without a notable dish among them, other than a shocking absence of fish (island!). Perhaps the restaurant is best used for watching the scenery drift by because people seemed more concerned by their image than anything they ate. There was a vibe in the air that the guests of this swanky establishment didn’t have a care in the world. Rome might have been burning, but these few, these happy few, didn’t seem have a worry in the world. Perhaps the disappointing food coupled with the sad reality of overly tanned old men attempting to dance the night away with some vapid floosy who might have been 25 put me out.
Dinner wrapped up, we took a stroll along Phi Beach’s coastline with never ending pounding techno still banging on in the distance killing any peace and serenity that the views might offer. Being a Maserati controlled zone, there were two cars on display nearby, and that was perhaps part of the tragedy of Phi Beach and the whole northern Sardinia vibe. A dark blue Gran Turismo sat alone, parked near the entrance but totally neglected by the fashionable jet-set that kept trudging in as it went past 11. A car that looks like pure sex on wheels, the GT has dangerous curves and some of the best design of any modern sports car. Up there with the Ferrari F12 or the Aston Martin Vanquish as the hottest things on the road, she sat alone, perhaps too rarefied, too elegant, too much of an acquired taste for the patrons of this hyper-expensive venue. The hottest lady within five square miles and no one to dance with. These cars were built for people that fall in love with them for all the right reasons: their looks, their heritage, their roar and their performance. They weren’t built to be put on a pedestal and treated like a lion in a cage. They were meant to run free over any road that would take them, paved or otherwise. That is the natural environment of the Maserati. Let Ferrari and Lamborghini look pretty parked outside some expensive hotel or restaurant. Maserati needs an open stretch of road and a driver with a bit of naughty streak.
After breakfast was devoured after a refreshing swim the next morning, it was time to take the Quattroporte and Levante out onto the mean streets of Sardinia. With my chum the sailing fanatic behind the wheel of a white Levante we set off from the hotel on a brisk tour of northern section of the island, ensuring that photo-ops were taken at every scenic vista. This wasn’t really a road test, more of a chance to get some great shots of the cars while getting just the slightest taste for what the cars really had to offer.
I’ve never claimed to be a major car enthusiast. I know if I like something or not, and have to say of the four cars in the Maserati fleet, the GT has to be the star. It is one of the most gorgeous cars I’ve ever seen and my limited experience inside one in St Tropez a year earlier gave me enough on its performance to be impressed. The Quattroporte serves its role as an executive transport well, while packing a bit more punch than your standard S Class or 7 Series. The Levante’s back-end looks like a Cayenne, according to a gentleman from Dubai that walked past, but luckily it has a grill that reminds me of a carnivorous basking shark. The interior is tastefully done, but perhaps its designers played it too safe with the exterior.
One of the greatest factors about Maserati, and perhaps one of the least known facts about the company, is its price point. These cars are very reasonably priced and when that is taken into account they offer a vastly superior alternative to the German options which put you to sleep with their Tutonic boringness. While Maserati has nailed its GT, it missed opportunities to really knock the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante out of the ballpark. The engines make you smile, and the fronts of the cars are gorgeous, but there is some lingering doubt about the overall styling and the never fading need and want to compete with the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
To get to where Maserati wants to be they need to take the rulebook and throw it out the window. Yes, they’re selling a lot of cars right now compared to the first half of this decade and I understand that they are projected to sell even more cars in the coming years, but as of right now, their cars are a non-event, with the exception of the afore mentioned GT. If they spent as much time styling the entire car as they did the front of their current fleet, I might think differently. Even with the amazing pricing they have a way to go to compete against the big-boys. I do believe that they are on the right track, but perhaps they need a little nudge in the right direction.
I understand that selling cars isn’t easy. I also understand that having a fast sailboat gets a lot of ink. I’m sure that it’s also productive to have the jet-set crowd get exposure to your cars, but stop trying to make bicycles and watches and focus on developing the baddest pieces of machinery on the road. Knuckle-down and focus on the basics. Figure out what made the GT the car it is today and then apply that to the rest of your fleet. Once that’s done, let gravity take effect, and watch your share of the market rise as fast as the brands level of prestige to the stratospheric levels it was when Maserati was dominating racing championships decades earlier.