Man behind the mean machine

business all the way Flavio Briatore’s ways weren’t always straight. AFP

Traditionalists decried Flavio Briatore as a T-shirt seller who could barely tell a spark plug from a bath plug when he arrived in Formula One 20 years ago.
Surveying the world through blue-tinted sunglasses and frequently growling about the sport's inability to cut costs and put on more of a show, 'Flav' could never be called a petrolhead.

His banishment from the glamour sport last Monday for his role in a race-fixing scandal, decades after he first shook up the scene with Italian clothing firm Benetton, will leave the paddock a little duller and certainly less controversial.
What the tall Italian lacked in engineering expertise he made up for with force of character, entrepreneurial bravado and a shrewd business brain.
Formula One, Briatore once said, is "just cars racing on a Sunday and grid girls". Yet there was no doubting the Renault team boss's passion for putting on a show and giving fans more for their money.

"He understands the business of Formula One, he's a wheeler-dealer -- and a lot of people are in this pit lane -- but Flavio is good at it," former Renault technical director Mike Gascoyne once said. "He's not just all mouth."
Accompanied by a dazzling array of supermodels and celebrities, the perma-tanned playboy made a fortune from the sport and has been a regular in glossy magazines for the best part of two decades.

He had a stormy on-off romance with British supermodel Naomi Campbell, fathered a daughter with Heidi Klum and this year married compatriot Elisabetta Gregoraci.
At Benetton, he won titles with Germany's Michael Schumacher. At Renault, who bought that team, he did it all over again with Spain's Fernando Alonso. The rewards were considerable but the salary ceased to be important some time ago. Briatore, who left the team last week, has plenty of other interests to pursue.
His yacht, Force Blue, was one of the biggest in the Monaco harbour this year and he also owns the 'Lion in the Sun' safari resort in Kenya, the ultra-expensive Billionaire nightclub in Sardinia and Cipriani's restaurant in London.

With Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, he co-owns English Championship (second division) soccer team Queens Park Rangers -- a club he said he took a shine to because he flew over their west London stadium in his helicopter on the way to Renault's Oxfordshire factory.

Briatore's English may be somewhat mangled, a husky mish-mash that conveys the sense in an impressionistic sort of way, but his meaning is usually clear enough. The 59-year-old has been a race winner with three separate teams -- owning the struggling Ligier when Frenchman Olivier Panis won the Monaco Grand Prix against the odds in 1996.

According to Nelson Piquet Jr, the driver whose crash to order at last year's Singapore Grand Prix triggered the latest controversy to stun the sport, there was also a darker side to the Italian. The Brazilian described Briatore, his manager, as his 'executioner' after being axed at the end of July and he added some more criticisms on Monday.
"His (Briatore's) true character, which had previously only been known to those he had treated like this in the past, is now known," he said. "Mr Briatore was my manager as well as the team boss, he had my future in his hands but he cared nothing for it. By the time of the Singapore GP he had isolated me and driven me to the lowest point I had ever reached in my life."

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