Bernie Ecclestone has said in the last few days that he thinks that the penalty meted out to Flavio Briatore by the FIA World Motor Sport Council was too harsh.
Ecclestone is a member of the WMSC himself and has a personal interest because Briatore is a close friend and business associate with whom Ecclestone spends his evenings at race meetings. Now, it seems their relationship is broken. Speaking at an LG press conference in Singapore today he said,
“He’s not talking to me, I don’t know. He thinks I should have defended him, which I couldn’t.”
But beyond that, reading between the lines of what he is saying here, it seems to me that he is laying the ground for an appeal by Briatore, from which he feels the Italian might emerge with a lesser sentence.
It’s just a hunch, but the wording looks quite significant to me. Max Mosley suggested the same thing yesterday, but Bernie’s message looks like some kind of signal. It’s curious. I’m hearing from my French colleagues that Briatore, having initially indicated that he wishes to pursue this in a civil court, is now coming around to the idea of an FIA appeal, having previously not wanted to have anything to do with the FIA.
“If you look at it sensibly, the people at the top had not the slightest idea,” said Ecclestone. “The people in the Renault F1 team had not the slightest idea.
“There were three people who knew what was going on and that is it. No one else was involved. Those people have been dealt with – in my view quite harshly in [regards to] Flavio. I don’t think it was necessary, but I was on the commission so I am probably just as guilty as anyone else. On reflection it wasn’t necessary. It was too much. Definitely too much.
“He should ask to be heard by the (FIA) court of appeal. If he goes to a civil court I don’t think he would win. Because the FIA would have to defend and somebody will say that he sent a young guy out to what could have been to his death. So it wouldn’t go down too well.”
Mind you, even if his sentence was cut to the level of Symonds’ that would still be a ban of five years and it seems unlikely that at the age of 64 Briatore would want to come back to racing.
There are suggestions that Briatore has been thinking of starting his own rival series to Formula 1, or trying to persuade the FOTA teams to follow though with the breakaway threat. But it’s hard to imagine.