The life and controversies of Flavio Briatore
Over the decades, Formula 1 has seen many controversial characters, but few of them can match Flavio Briatore, an Italian businessman who has a thing or two associated with F1 in his CV. Briatore was born in Verzuolo, a town near Turin in 1950, and after failing to graduate in a public school, he went to a private one, finishing with the lowest grade average ever.
Soon after finishing his education, Briatore had several business ventures, and in the seventies, he became an assistant to Attilio Dutto. After Dutto was killed in 1979, Briatore moved to Milan, where he met Luciano Benetton, CEO of the eponymous company. During that period, Flavio Briatore was sentenced twice because of a series of elaborate frauds and cons, but has kept close connections with Benetton while on the run and even had several boutiques opened in the Virgin Islands.
In 1988, Briatore went to his first Formula 1 race in Australia, and he was appointed commercial director of Benetton’s F1 team—Benetton Formula Ltd, previously known as Toleman. That’s when Briatore showed his full potential, but in a manner characteristic to him.
Michael Schumacher was Briatore’s greatest find
When Benetton fired the whole management, Flavio went on to become the managing director and succeeded to lure a young talent whose name might sound familiar to you. That’s right, it was none other than Michael Schumacher who had his F1 debut for Jordan. The transfer was so controversial that it went to court, but the case was dismissed because Jordan and Schumacher didn’t sign any formal contract.
Briatore guided Schumacher to his first and very controversial title in 1994, which was overshadowed by the death of Ayrton Senna, as well as the infamous traction control scandal. Schumacher won his second title in 1995, and when the German went to Ferrari alongside his mechanics, Briatore was in trouble. He was subsequently replaced in 1997 and from 1998 to 2000, he was heading Supertech, an engine supplier for F1 teams.
His next great jewel was Fernando Alonso
In 2001, Briatore returned to F1 as the managing director of his former team, which had a new owner and a new name – Benetton-Renault. In 2002, the team became Renault F1, and in 2003, Briatore fired Jenson Button and brought his protegé Fernando Alonso, whom he met in 1999 and guided through the world of racing. Together, they scored the first win at Hungaroring. Year 2004 was without wins, but in 2005 and 2006, Alonso claimed two consecutive F1 titles, ending the five-year-long dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. In 2005, Alonso became the youngest ever F1 champion and he held that record until 2008 and Lewis Hamilton‘s first title. Both Alonso or Hamilton could have won the title in 2007 as well, but it went to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen due to their rivalry that plagued the success of McLaren. So, in 2008, Alonso returned to Renault and under Briatore’s wing.
In 2009, Briatore departed due to a race fixing scandal that involved Nelson Piquet Jr. and Fernando Alonso, which happened at the 2008 Singapore GP. In the finishing part of the race, Piquet intentionally crashed, bringing out the safety car, thus enabling Alonso to eventually win the race. After an investigation leading to Piquet’s confession, the FIA banned Briatore from FIA-sanctioned events indefinitely, but in 2010, the ban was overturned. However, Flavio Briatore was determined never to return to F1.
Even though he is a highly controversial figure both in the sport and out of it, Flavio Briatore is undoubtedly one of the greatest talent scouts in F1. Drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jarno Trulli, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Heikki Kovalainen were, or still are, under his management, and that’s a resume that puts Briatore in the glorious pages of F1 as well.