Flavio Briatore first entered the ranks of Formula 1 with no previous experience in motorsports, having been drafted from the ranks of Benetton when that apparel company still owned a racing team – which has since morphed into Renault. Briatore, always a savvy operator (look him up on Wikipedia for details), quickly became one of the big wheels in the sport. Besides his day job of running a racing team, he has steadily developed an array of ancillary interests, including the following:
- Managinng a small stable of F1 drivers, including, either currently or formerly, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Tullli and Heikki Kovallenen.
- Heading the Meccahrome company when they sold Renault engines (badged as Supertec) to various F1 teams, including Williams, Bennetton, BAR and Arrows, on a customer basis.
- Ownership in other F1 teams, including Minardi (partial) and Ligier (complete). He sold his shares in the former to his partners, and the latter he sold outright to former Benetton colleague Tom Walkinshaw.
One if his more recent successes would appear to be a windfall $11,000,000 profit from his ownership of the Spanish television rights for Formula 1 (controlled through his company Stacourt, based in the UK). Briatore acquired these rights in 2002 from his friend, F1 Supremo Bernie Eccelstone. You might wonder why Eccelstone, not known for turning his back on a profitable venture, would turn his back on such a lucrative revenue stream.
The fact is, Formula 1 was never particularly popular in Spain prior to the Fernando Alonso years. The Spanish are gaga over motorcycle racing (maybe those biker leathers remind them of matador costumes) , but racing on four wheels has long left them cold. Until the rise of Alonso, that is, who single-handedly turned the Spaniards into F1 fanatics (and Lewis Hamilton haters).
Briatore, who, from Alonso’s early days at Minardi, has always touted the young Spaniard as a future great in the sport, must have had an inkling that F1 would soar in popularity in the Iberian peninsula once Alonso began to distinguish himself. Probably, when Eccelstone inked the deal transferring the rights to Briatore’s company, he thought he was taking Italian to the cleaners. But Briatore was raised in the land of Machiavelli, and even a crafty mogul like Eccelstone would probably do well to count his fingers after shaking hands with the man, even if they are old chums.