Analysis: Briatore Does it his Way

Renault's Flavio Briatore stands out from other Formula One team bosses and not just as a celebrity escort of supermodels and owner of exclusive nightclubs

Analysis: Briatore Does it his Way

Some have been more successful but none of his contemporaries have won Championships with two teams, the Italian adding Fernando Alonso's title last Sunday to his triumph at Benetton with Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 1995.

Briatore, 55, has also been a race winner with three separate teams, since he was the owner of struggling Ligier when Frenchman Olivier Panis won the Monaco Grand Prix against the odds in 1996.

Surveying the world through blue-tinted sunglasses and frequently growling about Formula One's inability to cut costs and put on more of a show, 'Flav' could never be called a petrolhead.

Even if he can tell the difference between a spark plug and a bath plug, an ability he has not always been credited with, Briatore has little interest in what lies beneath the sponsor's name on the engine cover.

Formula One, he once said, is, from the outside "just cars racing on a Sunday and grid girls".

Briatore, who built up the Benetton fashion empire in America before entering Formula One as a marketing expert, has done it his way and he has delivered.

He snapped up the emerging Schumacher in 1991, whisking him away from Jordan before they could lock him into a contract, and struck gold again when he signed Alonso as a little-known teenager.

Corporate Correctness

When Briatore arrived at Renault, after leaving Benetton in 1997, some felt sure it would all end in tears with the playboy image at odds with the corporate correctness of a major manufacturer.

They were wrong and Renault, who bought the Benetton team in 2000, are delighted.

"Flavio is completely uncommon as the head of a Formula One team," says Patrick Faure, Renault's F1 president.

"When I said to Renault I wanted to take him on board, otherwise I wouldn't launch the new operation of coming back to Formula One in 2000, I think I did right.

"He is the kind of man who is fantastically able to put things together.

"He has a very special management system and he has a way of selecting people, organising the job and looking after the results all the time.

"He is very good at controlling things," added Faure.

"Sometimes in special businesses like this one you need special people. It didn't take me too much time to convince them but the results are there and everyone says you are right."

Australian Mark Webber, the Williams driver whose career has for years been guided and managed by Briatore, put it more bluntly.

"Flavio - he has the bloody crystal ball," he said. "Obviously he's very close to (commercial supremo) Bernie (Ecclestone), he knows the sport very well.

"But that team has been through Hell. It's been really tough, qualifying behind the Minardis a few years ago," added Webber.

"They have had a rough start and now they've come through and they've worked hard. They're a close-knit team and you can probably count on two hands the people who have left there in the last five years.

"Flavio demands that respect ... he's so bloody sharp. He knows. He has a great bullshit meter."

Briatore has a reputation as a party animal, regularly featured in the celebrity glossy magazines with his 'Billionaire' and 'Twiga' nightclubs in Sardinia.

He has had a stormy on-off romance with British supermodel Naomi Campbell, fathered a daughter with Heidi Klum and accompanied many other beautiful women.

Yet one recent interviewer concluded that the Italian was "something of a workaholic, more interested in business than sex and uncomfortable with the vulnerability required by a serious relationship".

Faced with the choice on Sunday of staying on in Brazil for an impromptu party to celebrate Alonso's success or flying back to Europe for a factory visit, the Italian headed straight for the airport.

Arriving at Renault's engine plant at Viry-Chatillon near Paris on Monday afternoon, he thanked them for everything they had done before flying on to address the workforce at the Enstone factory in England.

"I am so, so proud of this -- what we have done together this year is like a miracle," he said. "We started the adventure in 2001 and now we are part of history."

The Constructors' Championship, with McLaren now two points clear with two races remaining, has still to be won or lost. The partying can wait.

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