The Italian sporting media is all a flutter today with the news that Flavio Briatore recently visited Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters, toured the Gestione Sportiva with team principal Stefano Domenicali and went across to meet chairman Luca di Montezemolo.
Gazzetta dello Sport describes the visit as a “very great surprise” and speculates as to the motive for the visit. It happened four days ago, after the British Grand Prix, when Ferrari and the FIA were in a dispute about the sequence of events which led to Fernando Alonso’s penalty, which ruined his race.
Following the Singapore crash scandal last season, Briatore is now a free agent, no longer affiliated to the Renault F1 team. He managed to clear his name to a certain extent in the successful appeal against his lifetime ban from the FIA World Council.
However he is still under an order where he is not allowed to work in F1 until 2013. This is mainly on the team management side. He is allowed to duck and dive and he played a big role in bringing the Pirelli deal into F1.
There is talk in the F1 paddock that he is likely to start work with his old friend Bernie Ecclestone in the near future.
His position in the sport now is an interesting one, as he was one of the architects of the Formula One Teams Association and drove them towards the breakaway last summer. Although he is from the other end of the Italian political spectrum from Montezemolo and the two had a stormy relationship for many years, their work together on FOTA brought them closer together. Briatore was in charge of the commercial working group at FOTA and in that capacity was a kind of “shadow Bernie”.
But if Briatore does now work alongside Ecclestone in some capacity which does not violate his sentence, he will be in a poacher turned gamekeeper role in the negotiations over the 2013 Concorde Agreement, one with extensive insights into FOTA’s strategy and it may be that Montezemolo wanted to look him in the eyes and ask him his intentions.
We are about to enter into an interesting period when the teams are shaping up to demand a much higher share of the commercial revenues of the sport in the next Concorde Agreement. There are all sorts of theories about what Montezemolo personally wants to get from the negotiations. Bernie Ecclestone and former FIA president Max Mosley are believed to have long considered FOTA a Trojan horse for Montezemolo.
Given the background here, it is unlikely that Briatore went to Maranello simply to have a coffee.
There are many possible reasons why he might have gone there; he is the boss of a company which still manages Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. He could have been there to sound out Montezemolo on behalf of Ecclestone.
However the converse is also possible and he could even have been talking about a role in a future F1 without Ecclestone and let’s not forget that Briatore and Montezemolo were all for FOTA starting an alternative racing series last season.
Indeed, the way that this story has emerged and knowing a little of how things work in Italy, there is a message here to someone from Montezemolo and Briatore. Looking at the provenance of the story and the writers involved, it is more likely to have come from Briatore than from Ferrari.
Whatever the political motive, it is unlikely that Briatore has any kind of return to racing in mind, as he said in May, “Seeing the way it is now, I don’t enjoy it anymore, the adrenaline to do it is not there anymore. This is something I don’t miss at all.”