I never spent much time chasing Flavio Briatore around the paddock; not because I found him odious, but because I couldn’t understand a word he said. I’m not the only one – an F1 high-up once told me that for similar reasons, whenever Flavio telephoned him he’d just say yes to everything.
Still, he was a fascinating character, and one of F1’s chief power brokers by dint of his friendship with Bernie Ecclestone and his network of F1 driver management contracts (not to mention his lucrative involvement in GP2 and related businesses). Besides keeping him plugged in to an inordinate number of revenue streams, this made him a far more influential figure in F1 than many people give him credit for.
It is for this reason that he has embarked on what appears to be the fools’ errand of launching a civil action in the French courts against the FIA. His lifetime ban from motorsport was calculated not only to deny him income but chiefly to exclude him from that which he held most dear: his seat at the top table of international motorsport; and his status as second only to Ecclestone among F1’s movers and shakers. Acquisition of money and dispensation of power; shorn of these facilities, he is just one of the little people.
The court will reach a judgement early next month and it is tricky to predict the outcome. He was caught bang to rights in the race-fixing scandal and failed to turn up at the World Motor Sport Council meeting that determined his fate; and yet it is possible that his claims about the punishment being excessive – and motivated by Max Mosley’s personal desire for ‘revenge’ – may find a sympathetic ear (not on this blog, since you ask).
It says much about the arrogance of power that Briatore thinks he can erase the stain of his loathsome conduct. He doesn’t trouble himself with what the man on the street thinks. What matters to him is to regain some grip on the reins of power: the who-goes-where of the driver market and the what-goes-where of engine, chassis and tyre contracts.
So I was interested to hear in Monaco last week that the French court may not be Flavio’s final port of call. Some say that he and his people are already lobbying the new FIA president for an official pardon.
Stranger things have happened. Remember Richard Nixon?