F1 Welcomes Scandal-Ridden Flavio Briatore Back With Open Arms

Briatore will serve as an Alpine advisor, and The Powers That Be seem to see no issues.
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The name “Flavio Briatore” might have been tinged with ill repute for the rest of his life had he built his career anywhere but Formula 1. However, because the international pinnacle of open-wheel racing protects its own, Briatore hasn’t merely been allowed back into the fringes of the F1 world—he’s been welcomed back with open arms and well wishes.

In 2009, Briatore was forced to resign from the Renault F1 team in the wake of a scandal: his former driver Nelson Piquet Jr. had accused Briatore of race fixing at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, and that resignation was soon followed with a lifetime ban. F1 may not always be the noblest form of racing, the move seemed to say, but it simply will not tolerate a conspiracy to rig the results of a race by requesting one of its drivers crash to hand its other driver a win.

Except, of course, that’s not the case.

Briatore’s lifetime ban was overturned in court back in 2010. At the time, he mused that he would likely never return to the sport that had ousted him so dramatically. Now, Briatore is back. He will join Alpine—or, the successor to the Renault team he once managed—to serve as an executive advisor. 

The Alpine team has been in shambles. Esteban Ocon secured a shock win at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, and the team has managed a few podiums since, but nothing it’s tried seems to work. Ocon and his teammate, Pierre Gasly, are constantly at odds. An influx of cash from investors like Ryan Reynolds failed to manifest results. Leaders like Luca de Meo and Bruno Famin have struggled to get Alpine in line.

The hope, then, seems to be that Briatore—a man known for leading Benetton and Renault to multiple World Championships—could be the man to orchestrate a revival. But isn’t anyone concerned about Briatore’s reputation, or the scandal that follows his name?

Well, no. Not really.

In a pre-race press conference ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Alpine boss Famin brushed off Briatore’s history by saying, “I don’t really mind about [the] past. I am always looking at the future.” When interviewers pressed Famin further, pointing out that Briatore never publicly apologized for his role in 2008’s Crashgate scandal, he doubled down: “I’m looking ahead, not backward.”

That kind of reaction is perhaps understandable, coming from the man in charge of the team that has revitalized Briatore’s F1 career. But even the competition is willing to move forward. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said, “I think we need to give a chance to recover from the situations,” while Ferrari’s Fred Vasseur admitted that he thinks Briatore “paid the price of this.”

And sure, 15 years have passed. Briatore’s ban has been overturned. Pat Symonds, a Renault engineer who was also banned in the wake of the Crashgate scandal, not only returned from that ban to work with several F1 teams but also to serve as F1’s chief technical officer. The world has moved on.

But this highlights an ongoing problem in the world of motorsport, and particularly in F1: The sport cannot help but protect the men close to its inner circle, whether they deserve that protection or not. Look no further than Bernie Ecclestone; the former czar of F1 may have been routinely criticized for his backward perspectives on women and racial minorities, but aside from some surface-level discourse about how harmful his thoughts could be for the sport, Ecclestone was allowed to rule with an iron fist until the day he sold the sport to Liberty Media. Even today, there are plenty of people who want to temper any criticism of Ecclestone by pointing out how he transformed the sport into a profitable enterprise as if that should completely overwrite any harm he had done.

Perhaps Alpine needs an audacious Briatore-like figure to lead its charge back to success—but there’s no reason that person needs to actually be Briatore. There is no reason F1 should continue pulling from its usual pool of familiar faces when what the sport needs is meaningful change. 

Flavio Briatore has a legal right to work in Formula 1, but Formula 1 should know better than to roll out the red carpet in welcoming him back. Not if it wants to make meaningful change.

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