Analysis: Briatore remains in control
|By Alan Baldwin
||Thursday, February 2nd 2006, 18:10 GMT
There were gasps in the audience as Flavio Briatore stepped out of the shadows and on to the brightly lit stage for Renault's Formula One launch.
His dark blue jacket, finished off with cream piping around the edges and worn over distressed jeans and pink shirt, was almost as eye-catching as the car.
Reporters, gathered afterwards around the tanned team principal in Monaco's Grimaldi Forum last Tuesday, demanded answers.
Where had he got that jacket? And, more to the point, how much had he paid for it?
Never in the chequered history of Formula One launches can one man's sartorial tastes have so successfully distracted attention from the main reason for being there.
For London's Daily Telegraph he looked every inch the ageing playboy. To the Guardian, he had a whiff of "The Bounder of the Lower Sixth". Whatever he wore, Briatore was always going to be a centre of attention after McLaren's bombshell announcement before Christmas that World Champion Fernando Alonso would join them from Renault in 2007.
The Spaniard is managed by Briatore, one of the sharpest minds in the paddock and the man who famously plucked a little-known Michael Schumacher from out of the hands of Eddie Jordan 15 years ago.
Owner of exclusive nightclubs and escort of some of the world's most beautiful women, Briatore does not usually miss a trick. Neither is he caught napping.
Yet there he was professing to be no more clued up about the loss of his driver than he was about the jacket's price tag.
"I don't know, you need to call my store," he said. "I don't know honestly about this"
Even if Tuesday's launch left no doubt that champions Renault would be serious contenders again this season, it also left key questions unanswered.
"The moment I was made in charge of Renault, I no care about our management company and Bruno Michel deals completely with that," said Briatore.
"I don't have to clarify anything...I have no active part (in Alonso's management). Fernando signed a contract with some company and in this company I have no active part," added Briatore.
"Fernando wants to drive for McLaren in 2007, he's done a good choice, it's fantastic, I'm very happy."
Had your position been compromised by the 25-year-old's decision, Briatore was asked.
Cue a big grin. "Very much" he said, mock seriously to guffaws of laughter. "I see that."
Briatore's position at Renault, a team that won both championships last year and whose new car is already setting the pace in testing, looked more solid than ever despite the departure of his prize asset.
The Italian was not the only one unable or unwilling to cast light on the inner mysteries of the Alonso deal, how it was put together and who approached whom.
The driver was even less forthcoming.
"We can talk about this at other press conferences, but not here," said Alonso. "It is not the right moment. I think it is good to clarify what we did; what is the motivation for this year and the target for this year.
"But all the details, I don't think it is the right time."
So how did he feel about the possible damage to Renault of his departure being announced a year early, just as the team were preparing to trumpet their success.
"We can talk about all this, but I think not today," continued the Spaniard. "I do what I should do and everybody is free to do anything after you finish your relationship with another team."
How did Briatore find out? "That is something between Flavio and me". What could Renault have done to keep him? "It is between Renault and me"
Team president Patrick Faure, who will step down later this year, was also unable to shed any light on the affair but insisted Briatore was blameless.
"This operation has been done without Flavio knowing anything, which in fact wasn't very pleasant for him," he told reporters. "This is absolutely sure, for this I would put my hand in the fire."
And Briatore remains in the driving seat.
||MP3: Listen to Flavio Briatore|
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