Farewell Flavio: A Brief History Of F1's Playboy

Duncan ScottAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2009

In the interests of protecting the environment portions of this text have been re-cycled.

Today September 16th 2009 we have seen Flavio Briatore take his leave of Renault, and it is fair to say he departs under unfortunate circumstances.

Having guided two drivers to four world championships, he is now a very familiar face to us. Soccer tycoon, nightclub owner, and babe-magnet, Flavio Briatore is an improbable character who could have stepped from the pages of a steamy novel.

He has been in many a scrape, made an enormous fortune, and has dated some of the world's most beautiful women, including Naomi Campbell, Adriana Volpe, Eva Herzigova, Elle Macpherson, and Heidi Klum.

So who is Flavio, and where did he come from?

In this brief history of the master of bling, bonk, and billions, we take a stroll down memory lane to see how Flavio became the man he is today.

The Clothing Mogul

As a young man Flavio's nickname was Tribula, meaning someone who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. By the late 1970's our hero had done a lot of things, and had become assistant to mafia-connected businessman Attilio Dutto in Cuneo.

In 1979 Dutto was killed by a car bomb, and his main business Paramatti Vernici collapsed into bankruptcy. Briatore moved on to Milan, where he worked in the stock market. Crucially, there he met and became friends with Luciano Benetton, founder and owner of the clothing empire.

The liquidation of Paramatti Vernici became a criminal investigation, and Briatore was convicted of fraud. Not wishing to serve his four year prison sentence, Flavio went on the run to the Virgin Islands, where he again met up with Luciano Benetton.

At the time Benetton was exanding his chain of clothing stores to the US, and he appointed his friend Flavio to run the operation.

Using a franchising business model, Briatore opened hundreds of Benetton stores in the US over the next decade, and because he received a slice of every franchise fee he became a very wealthy man.

The F1 Boss

In 1986 Benetton took over the Toleman F1 team they had previously sponsored. They were a mid-field team, but Luciano wanted better than that, and he had just the man for the job.

So on November 13 1988 Flavio Briatore was taken to see the team in action at the Adelaide Street Circuit in Australia. Thierry Boutsen scored a 5th place for Benetton, which was a good result for them.

Shortly after the race Briatore was appointed Commercial Director of Benetton Formula, and when Luciano cleared out the management in 1990 our hero became Managing Director.

That 1988 Adelaide race was interesting for a couple of F1 historical reasons. It was the last race of the turbo era, and McLaren achieved a 1 - 2 with Prost and Senna. Despite having scored less points across the season than Prost, Senna was declared World Champion because under the rules of that time only each driver's best 11 results counted towards the championship

It is axiomatic that good managers have a knack for recruiting the best people.

When our man Flavio became head of an F1 team, he had absolutely no background knowledge to lean on, so clearly he need experts to support him. In 1991 Briatore brought Tom Walkinshaw into Benetton as Engineering Director, and Ross Brawn as Technical Director.

Walkinshaw, who had very strong background as a race driver and team owner, was instrumental in bringing Michael Schumacher across from Jordan that same year. Rory Byrne was already in place at Benetton as designer, as was race engineer Nigel Stepney.

Flavio now had all the the pieces in place that would lead to Driver's World Championships in 1994 and 1995.

When Briatore took over at Benetton their engine supplier was Ford, and that remained the case until the end of the 1994 season. For 1995 F1 cars changed from V8 to V10 engines, and this was to prove fateful for Flavio, because it brought Renault into his life.

In 1995 Michael Schumacher won his second WDC with Benetton, which was now Renault-powered, and the team won its first and only Constructors Championship. But the good times were coming to a close, for at the end of the year Schumacher, Brawn, Byrne, and some other key figures departed for Ferrari.

Williams won the Constructors Championship in 1996 and 1997, with their drivers Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve winning the WDC for those years. Luciano Benetton put his son Rocco into the F1 team, and Benetton Junior fired Briatore.

The Engine Supplier

In a somewhat far-sighted move, Briatore had bought the Ligier F1 team in 1995. He promptly sold it on to Tom Walkinshaw, who renamed it TWR Arrows, but the clever Flavio had got what he wanted from the deal; Ligier's stock of Renault V10 engines.

As one consequence of being privatised, Renault announced that they would be withdrawing from their F1 engine supplier role at the end of 1997. The French company Mecachrome, who had prepared Renault engines for F1 customers, would continue to supply engines for 1998, but after that Benneton, Williams, Arrows, and BAR would be stuck for motive power.

Step forward Flavio Briatore, who happened to have some engines tucked away.

Briatore's company Super Performance Competition Engineering reached an agreement whereby Mechachrome would prepare the engines, and Flavio would distribute them under the Supertec name. How Rocco Benetton felt about having to buy engines from the guy he had fired is not publicly recorded.

The F1 Boss - Again

Renault returned to F1 in 2000 by buying the Benetton team, racing as Benetton-Renault in 2001 and Renault after that. They knew who they wanted to run the operation for them, and Flavio Briatore was back as Managing Director and Team Principal, displacing Rocco Benetton.

In 2001 English driver Jenson Button joined Renault on loan from Williams. Briatore was publicly scathing about Button, who was out-classed by his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, and said he would not keep him for 2002 if he had a choice.

Button was sacked at the end of 2002, replaced by young Spanish test driver Fernando Alonso. Alonso did not disappoint his boss. He won the WDC in 2005 and 2006, with Renault securing the constructors title in both years.

We are all too familiar with Alonso's torrid year at McLaren in 2007, during which time Renault and Briatore languished in the doldrums.

In the 2008 we saw Alonso chasing wins for Renault again. We also saw a strange crash in Singapore that has now led to Flavio's downfall, and perhaps this is really the end of his F1 career.

Or perhaps not.

Other Interests

Flavio Briatore has many interests outside of F1.

He owns a restaurant in London, a nightclub in Sardinia, a beach club in Tuscany, and a holiday resort in Kenya named The Colony Club.There is also his clothing brand Billionaire, and his fashion brand Billionaire Italia.

It goes without saying that he has a yacht, the 207 feet long Force Blue.

Briatore became chairman in 2007 of London soccer club Queens Park Rangers, which he co-owns with Bernie Ecclestone and Lacksmi Mittal.

So even without F1, Flavio has lots to occupy him. How his lovely wife Elisabetta Gregoraci will comfort him in these difficult times is something I cannot speculate on.


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