The end of Flavio Briatore over crashgate – A controversial end to a 'fugitive'-turned F1 entrepreneur

Flavio Briatore’s journey in Formula One was colorful and was punctuated with peaks and troughs, but his exit in the aftermath of crashgate in 2008 was another controversial chapter in his life.

Flavio Briatore had a very colorful journey in F1, from winning championships to a massive controversy. (Image credit: Twitter)

He started his career as a fugitive. From his base in the Virgin Islands, he managed a Formula One team. You would think he was some kind of an international don who controlled a sports team from a remote location. This individual spotted one racing legend, had some great times with two times. It seems a sense of justice that his exit from F1 came under controversial circumstances that threatened the very credibility of the sport.

Flavio Briatore’s life as an F1 owner and businessman could be the subject of various documentaries and movies. When he managed to achieve success, it was stratospheric. When he hit a low point, it touched rock bottom. From the very beginning, Flavio Briatore had to work very hard for success. The journey of Briatore culminated in a surprise move on September 16, 2009 when he suddenly quit the Renault team over the incident of Crashgate in the Singapore Grand Prix earlier in the year.

The Crashgate incident that sullied Flavio Briatore and F1

Briatore was one of the more successful team principals of an F1 team. In 2005 and 2006, he helped Fernando Alonso and Renault win the driver’s and constructor’s championship in grand style. But, in 2008 and 2009, his reputation took an all-time beating. Alonso, who was the two-time champion, had returned to Renault after a turbulent stint with McLaren. He was partnered by Nelson Piquet Junior, the son of three-time champion Nelson Piquet. Briatore was already there as the team principal, having been associated with Benetton and Renault since the late 90s.

The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix was historic for it was the first night race of F1. It was a poor start for Renault. Alonso qualified 15th and Piquet was in 16th. During the warm-up lap, Piquet spun at the exact corner where he would later crash out but was in this instance able to continue. After the race started, Alonso was the first driver to make a routine pit stop for fuel and tyres on lap 12. He had put in a light fuel load at the start of the race in an attempt to pass the cars in front of him. Three laps later, Nelson Piquet Jr. hit the circuit wall at turn seventeen. This was one of the turns on the circuit which did not have a crane nearby, necessitating the deployment of the safety car.

Fernando Alonso wins Singapore

Safety car regulations in 2008 meant that the pit lane was closed until all cars had been bunched up behind the safety car. Hence the advantage of the lead cars would be eliminated before they were able to pit. After they did pit, they would re-enter the race at the back of the field.

Alonso, having pitted just before the safety car was introduced, therefore gained a significant advantage. In order to avoid running out of fuel, some drivers did need to pit while the pit lane was closed and they were penalized for the infraction.

This allowed Alonso to win the race but there were some massive speculations. Some cynics pointed out that Piquet Jr. crashed deliberately, but at that time no one noticed.

Revelations of Pique Jr. stun F1

In 2009, Piquet Jr. signed for one more year with Renault. After featuring in 10 races, he did not score a point. He was acrimoniously dropped by Renault, with Pique Jr. criticizing Flavio Briatore. After his departure, Brazilian television station Rede Globo stated that Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered to crash during the Singapore race. This got the interest of the FIA who launched an investigation. On 4 September, following the investigation by the FIA, Renault F1 were formally accused of interfering with the outcome of the 2008 Singapore race and conspiring with Piquet Jr.

Piquet Jr. revealed that he was asked by Briatore and Symonds to crash his car at a specific corner. Alonso denied knowing of any plan to ask Piquet to crash. During the course of the investigation, Alonso was absolved of any blame by the FIA. Renault F1 stated that it intended to take legal action against Nelson Piquet Jr and his father in both French and British courts.

The fall-Out from Crashgate

Pat Symonds, the Executive Director at Engineering with Renault,  was also reported to have been offered immunity from the action if he provided the FIA with details of the alleged conspiracy. Symonds was reported to have told FIA investigators that the initial idea of a crash had come from Piquet Jr.

The Times newspaper published extracts of Renault F1 radio conversations transmitted before and after the Singapore race between Renault F1 personnel including Piquet Jr., Alonso, Symonds, and Flavio Briatore. The World Motorsports Council imposed a disqualification on Renault, suspended for two years. This meant that if a similar incident occurred before 2011, Renault would be banned from Formula One. Briatore was banned indefinitely from any FIA-sanctioned event, while Symonds received a five-year ban. Furthermore, Briatore was indefinitely banned from managing drivers when the FIA stated that super licences would not be issued or renewed to any driver associated with him in the future.

The end of the road for Briatore

In previous instances, Briatore had been offered immunity and pardon. In the 80s, Briatore was convicted of fraud and forgery on multiple occasions which led to some prison sentences. To avoid imprisonment, Briatore was living as a fugitive in the Virgin Islands. But, due to his close relation with Luciano Benetton, he managed to develop his business acumen.

Briatore attended his first Formula One race, the Australian Grand Prix, in 1988. He had proclaimed in the past of lack of interest in the sport. Luciano Benetton appointed him commercial director of his Formula One team, Benetton Formula Ltd. When Benetton fired the team management shortly thereafter, Briatore was promoted to managing director and set about turning Benetton into a competitive team.

He hired and quickly fired engineer John Barnard. Briatore lured young driver Michael Schumacher from the Jordan team after his first F1 race in 1991. Briatore knew Schumacher could be the best and built a team around him at Benetton. Schumacher went on to win at Spa in 1992 and again at Estoril in 1993. The German claimed the World Drivers’ Championship in 1994 and 1995. The Benetton team won the World Constructors’ Championship in 1995.

Flavio Briatore the talent scout

Briatore has a reputation as a talent-scout. After Schumacher, his next best ‘find’ was Fernando Alonso. Briatore met with the teenage Spaniard in 1999. As his manager, Briatore secured him a race drive with Minardi in 2001 and promoted him to test-driver for Renault in 2002. After his exit from F1, he was involved in starting a line of billionaire clubs.

The crashgate scandal was the peak from which Briatore had a steep fall. For an individual who had such a colourful past, it is worth noting that a wrong act would result in a significant downfall.

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