A Look Back At Flavio Briatore In F1


The World Motorsport Council's (WMSC) decision to ban Flavio Briatore from FIA sanctioned events for life has put a dark, heavy, line underneath 20 years of near constant involvement in Formula One.

But the implications will be felt far beyond the walls of Renault's Enstone factory.

There are four, current F1 drivers – Alonso, Grosjean, Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen – who are managed by Briatore. However, under the WMSC's verdict it will not renew the superlicenses of any driver “associated” with Briatore, which leaves the four F1 drivers (and many others in lower formulae, for example GP2 driver Lucas Di Grassi) looking for a new manager in time to have their licenses renewed in time for next season and any junior drivers may be looking for new managers in order to continue their careers.

The decision not to sanction any series that involves Briatore in anyway also leave the GP2 series itself in a potential mire. It was Briatore, who along with Bernie Ecclestone, originated the idea, and through his position a Renault, GP2's engine supplier, it was Briatore who oversaw much of the series' day-to-day running. And while (fortuitously) the European GP2 series came to an end the day before the decision, it still needs a replacement for 2010, if not for the spin-off Asian winter series.

The ripples do not stop at the edge of motorsport. Briatore, along with Ecclestone (a man who must clearly acknowledge the awkward fact that one of his friends and business partners is banned from the sport he largely controls) and Lakshmi Mittal owns English Football League side Queens Park Rangers, a position Briatore may also have to forfeit as no person who has been banned from a sport's governing body can hold a majority interest or a directorship for a Football League club.

But, perhaps, the unusual career ending that “crash-gate” has ensured is equally matched by an unorthodox, eventful but ultimately successful career.

Unlike the Ross Brawn's or Frank Williams' he has shared the pitwall with the Italian, who turns 60 next year, was never a racing driver. He was never an engineer. He was never a mechanic.

He was a businessman.

The first steps of a career that looks to now have ended occurred when a young(er) Briatore was working in the Italian stock exchange when he met with Luciano Benetton, founder of the clothing company that bore his family name. The two soon struck up a professional relationship, to the extent that when the Benetton clothing brand was launched in America in 1979 it was Briatore at the helm, as the company's US director.

While Briatore was working for them in America, Benetton were taking big steps into Formula One. Since 1983 the clothing company had been a sponsor of a number of team, and made the final step to running a team, when they brought the Toleman team in time to enter the 1986 championship under the name “Benetton Formula”.

It was this team that Briatore would have been a guest of when he attended his first Grand Prix, the Australian race at Adelaide in 1988. It must have been a strange experience for Briatore, a man who professes beforehand to being interested in technology, let alone the circus of Formula One, and so it may have been even more a surprise when Briatore was brought into the team as Sales Director in 1989, and by 1990 was managing the team, with a certain Nelson Piquet Sr driving the multi-coloured cars.

From that moment on Briatore's F1 career, was by turns great, disgraced or down right odd.

Perhaps more than any other team principal he can take credit for the four drivers' titles and three constructors' title his team have won. It was Briatore who brought a young Michael Schumacher to F1, meeting him after the German had made only one F1 start before bringing him to Benetton. Two world titles followed

The same can be said for Fernando Alonso, who Briatore nurtured through the junior series' into a race seat at Minardi, then to the Renault squad under his leadership, first as test driver, then as a race driver. Again, world drivers' titles followed, this time joined by two teams' titles, rather than just one.

Add the successes of his team to those of the drivers under his managerial wing and Briatore could be argued to be one of successful men in F1.

However, not everything has been successful. After Schumacher and a number of the Benetton staff moved to Ferrari for 1996 Briatore bought and sold both Ligier (who he brought to gain their Renault engines) and Minardi (who he hoped to sell to British American Tobacco who were looking to enter F1 – they did, as BAR, only after buying the Tyrrell team) in quick succession.

A year later, after being replaced at Benetton by David Richards in 1997 Briatore moved into engine supply. Under the varied guises of Playlife, Supertec and Mecachrome old Renault engines were supplied to team's including Williams, BAR and Arrows. As you can imagine, the results of supplying 1997 engines to teams in 1999 were unimpressive to say the least.

The man is also no stranger to controversy – the affair that forced him out – is just the latest (and the last) of many alleged rule bending and breaking instances, including those that can be (conveniently) connected with his successes.

Of course, you're probably thinking of Michael Schumacher and the finale of the 1994 season, when the German collided with Damon Hill's Williams, putting both men out of the race and the championship trophy in Schumacher's hands. But by the time the championship reached Australia Schumacher had already been disqualified from two races, and excluded from a further two. The car deemed to be too low at Belgium, banned traction control systems were found in the cars, although it was never proved it was used and the team was also accused to tampering with the fuel rig, resulting in the pit fire that engulfed Jos Verstappen in Germany.

It was Renault, under Briatore, who piloted, and gained the most seemingly, out of the Mass Damper that was mounted in the nose of the 2006 car. The system was banned for the second half of the season, and the team's performance dropped, for reason's they were not quick to connect to the decision.

However, there will be no more success, no more controversy (after the current furore dies away, which could take a while with Briatore rumoured to be taking the FIA to court) no more Flavio, designer sunglasses clad strolling around the paddock, and that fact could be felt far beyond Formula One in 2009.

Photo Credit: Renault F1 – Flavio Briatore 2002