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Flavio Briatore in F1: Championships, 'Crashgate' controversy and a colourful career

Flavio Briatore in F1: Championships, 'Crashgate' controversy and a colourful career

Flavio Briatore in F1: Championships, 'Crashgate' controversy and a colourful career

Flavio Briatore in F1: Championships, 'Crashgate' controversy and a colourful career

Flavio Briatore is a man of many talents and has worked in just about every industry you can think of. From managing a restaurant to fashion stores and multiple Formula 1 teams and drivers, the Italian businessman is never too far from the action.

Having led the same team to three constructors' championships across two stints and placed the talents of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso into the limelight, his abilities to manage talent were regarded just as highly as his capabilities away from F1.

Early on, after starting out as a ski instructor, Briatore opened a restaurant under his nickname ‘Tribüla’, which ran into debt and was forced to close down. His next venture was to work in the Italian Stock Exchange, where he met Luciano Benetton.

After multiple fraud convictions in the 1980s which were later extinguished with amnesty, the Italian never spent a day in prison, having instead served time as a fugitive on the Virgin Islands. It was here where he would open up some Benetton stores and become director of Benetton’s American operations. By 1989, there were over 800 stores, with Briatore taking a cut from each franchise agreement.

The deal helped him to build a lot of wealth that would enable him to invest handsomely over the following decades in projects such as Queens Park Rangers (alongside Bernie Ecclestone), and his Billionaire nightclub brand.

Shortly after becoming Managing Director at Benetton, he would go on to win world titles with Schumacher, before returning to win further accolades with Alonso in 2005 and 2006.

Despite a lifetime ban for the 2008 'Crashgate' scandal, Flavio Briatore returns to the F1 scene as an Executive Advisor with Alpine.

Now let's take a look at just how he became such a powerhouse within F1.

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Taking F1 by storm with Benetton

The Benetton journey started long before Flavio Briatore ever stepped foot in the F1 paddock. Having contributed massively to the success of the Benetton brand in the USA, where 800 stores opened, Briatore would sell his stake in the company following complaints about competition from fellow stores, with just 200 stores left by the time Briatore began to look for options elsewhere.

Luciano Benetton would offer him the post as manager of the Formula 1 team in 1990, having previously denied any soft spot for the sport. Just a year later, after a scintillating debut for Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix, Briatore would sign Michael Schumacher as the two went on to take Formula 1 by storm and provide the first resistance to the big three of McLaren, Ferrari and Williams in a long time.

In 1994, Schumacher overcame a two-race ban as well as accusations of cheating to win the drivers' title, while they would have to wait until 1995 for their first taste of constructor's success.

In 1994 the Italian rejected an advance from Ferrari, which Schumacher couldn’t resist in 1996 when he decided to depart Benetton to chase his dreams. The move would dent Benetton’s capabilities and resulted in David Richards replacing Briatore in 1997. During his time away from managing teams, Briatore supplied Williams, BAR, Arrows and Benetton with Mechachrome-built Renault engines between 1999 and 2000.

He would return to the brand in 2001, managing the Benetton-Renault team before they became the Renault F1 team in 2002.

Flying high, and then crashing, with Renault

The early years were slow as Renault fought to improve their car and move up the grid. The biggest gamble Briatore took was promoting Alonso to replace Jenson Button in 2003, which sparked major controversy.

The Italian would only be proved right by the Spaniard’s performances as early as in his first season, when he won his maiden grand prix in Hungary, going on to finish sixth in his first season with Renault.

Further improvements would follow in 2004 as he finished fourth, before experiencing triumph in 2005 and 2006 with the iconic R25 and 26 cars.

In a shock move, Alonso would then move to McLaren in 2007, leaving Briatore to hire Heikki Kovalainen to replace him just months after winning a second consecutive title together. Briatore was a key cog in the smooth running of Renault as a title-winning operation, leading to Renault president Alain Dassas stating that his commitment was a key factor in the company remaining in the sport beyond 2007.

Alonso would return for 2008 in a far less competitive car, but still managed to win two grands prix, including the inaugural instalment of a Singapore race shrouded in controversy.

The Crashgate scandal whereby Briatore and colleague Pat Symonds were found guilty of race fixing after Nelson Piquet Jr crashed on purpose to benefit Alonso’s strategy would see Briatore receive one of the harshest punishments in FIA history for his involvement - a lifetime ban from F1.

However, 14 years after he was dismissed, the Renault-backed Alpine announced that he would return to the scene and take on a role as an Executive Advisor after a weak start to the 2024 season.

Supermodel wives and girlfriends

Flavio has a child with ex-wife Elisabetta Gregoraci, born in 2010. The two married on 14th June 2008 but divorced in 2017 after nine years of marriage.

Briatore was also engaged to supermodel Naomi Campbell until 2003, with the latter now considering him as a mentor.

He also has a daughter with former partner Heidi Klum. Leni, who was born in 2004 does not have any relationship with her father and sees musician Seal as her father, following her adoption by him in 2009.

QPR, and the ‘Four-Year Plan’

In 2007, Briatore was part of a Moanco-based consortium that led a takeover of Queens Park Rangers football club. Alongside close friend Bernie Ecclestone, the Italian would become chairman of the club.

In 2010, he stepped down from the post after the Football League sought to force him out under the ‘fit and proper persons’ rule, in the aftermath of the Crashgate scandal.

After cutting his ties with the club, Briatore went on to say how investing in a football club ‘is a good idea if you’re very rich and looking for ways to waste money.’

Flav the TV star: The Apprentice Italia

Between 2012 and 2014, Flavio appeared on the Italian version of The Apprentice, where 14 young businessmen and women competed for a chance to work for him.

A series of tasks were created for contestants to overcome before the losing sides had to attend a tough meeting with the boss. The winner of the show would be guaranteed a 6-figure paying job for at least a year under Flavio’s wing.

The show, produced by Sky, only lasted two seasons before being dropped due to unfavourable ratings.

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