Flamboyant F1 boss Briatore falls from grace | india | Hindustan Times
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Flamboyant F1 boss Briatore falls from grace

india Updated: Sep 21, 2009 19:43 IST
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With his blue-tinted shades, flowing grey hair and dapper dress sense Flavio Briatore - handed an unlimited ban from F1 on Monday for his role in 'crashgate' - had the air of an ageing rock star about him.

Even by Formula One's glitzy standards the ebullient Italian, who had as many friends as he had enemies, was hard to miss as he strolled down the grid before races.

The visual impact was mirrored by the huge influence he had on the sport in a career spanning two decades, but the love affair that came to a bumpy end in Paris on Monday.

The man who oversaw four world drivers' titles, a brace apiece for Michael Schumacher at Benetton and Fernando Alonso at Renault, could never in his darkest moments have forseen such a shabby and ignominious conclusion to his time in F1.

The unconventional Briatore's fall from grace was as sudden as it was unexpected.

At this month's Italian Grand Prix he had cut a defiant figure as he announced criminal proceedings against former driver Nelson Piquet junior and the Brazilian's father, Nelson Piquet senior, a former world champion, for making false allegations and blackmail.

At Monza Briatore held forth denying all the accusations against him, calling claims that he had conspired to get Piquet junior to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix "outrageous lies".

Then last week Renault effectively held their hands up to the 'crime', saying they would not be contesting the allegations at Monday's FIA inquiry.

That sensational statement was accompanied by the announcement that Briatore and Pat Symonds, Renault's director of engineering, had quit the team.

And on Monday Briatore heard his fate - an "unlimited" ban from grand prix racing.

This latest and most damaging trip to FIA headquarters was by no means the first time Briatore had been summoned to Paris' Place de la Concorde. He was associated with various controversies during the 1990s when Schumacher drove for the team, then owned and named Benetton.

It was with the Italian fashion house that Briatore made much of his fortune as director of the firm's American operation, a fortune that has enabled him to purchase (in no particular order) a super yacht, a Mayfair restaurant, a mythic nightclub in Sardinia, a fashion label, and a pharmaceutical company.

And it was with Benetton that he became immersed in F1 as first commercial and then managing director in the late 1980s.

Success came quickly with Benetton driver Schumacher winning the 1994 and 1995 title and the team the '95 constructors' title.

In its reincarnation as Renault, with Briatore's new prodigy Alonso at the wheel, the good times rolled back with the young Spaniard winning the championship in 2005 and 2006.

An espionage scandal with McLaren in 2007 damaged the team even though they escaped punishment, but nothing like as seriosuly as 'crashgate'.

Passionate and outspoken, Briatore was not afraid to raise his head over the parapet - when the F1 budget cap row was raging earlier in the season he threatened to withdraw his team unless FIA president Max Mosley dropped controversial plans.

"....the image and the integrity of those who invest in Formula One would be degraded," the outspoken Italian said of Mosley's plans - ironic words given the nature of Briatore's downfall.

Now that he has some spare time, Briatore will at least have the consolation of being able to attend more games at Loftus Road in his capacity as part-owner with Bernie Ecclestone - one of the men who helped decide his fate on Monday - of Queens Park Rangers.