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What the return of Flavio Briatore really means for Alpine and F1

Italian is a polarising yet iconic figure of F1, infamous for his controversy

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The news that Flavio Briatore has returned to F1 will have repercussions for Alpine and F1 itself. 

What the return of Flavio Briatore really means for Alpine and F1 (Image Credit: @Formula_Stats on X)
What the return of Flavio Briatore really means for Alpine and F1 (Image Credit: @Formula_Stats on X)

Alpine has announced former Benetton and Renault Team Principal Flavio Briatore will return to the Enstone team, in the role of Executive Advisor. The move brings back of one of F1’s most iconic figures of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Who is Flavio Briatore?

Briatore is a flamboyant icon of F1, though not without controversy. Millennial fans will immediately remember him as the leader of the Benetton team in the 1990s and for several sporadic points in the early 2000s. Benetton later morphed into Renault. The French manufacturer sold the team to a private consortium in the early 2010s before repurchasing it in late 2015.

His leadership gave Michael Schumacher his first title in 1994, following this up by winning both championships in 1995. A political heavyweight, he was a permanent fixture in the pit lane. He became one of F1’s most successful team principals at the time, as he beat the all-conquering Williams outfit.

He returned to the team after Renault bought it in 2000. Under his leadership, Fernando Alonso became a Renault driver, securing double world championships in 2005 and 2006. Briatore secured the constructors’ title for Renault in both years, but the team dramatically fell away in 2007 and 2008. He remained in post as he plotted a fightback.

But Briatore is perhaps best known for the infamous 2008 Singapore Grand Prix race-fixing scandal. His involvement in engineering a race win for Alonso by asking his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash deliberately resulted in a lifetime ban.

Renault Technical Director Pat Symonds received a five-year ban. Symonds is, of course, now back in F1, joining Andretti’s fledgling F1 operation after a spell as F1’s Chief Technical Officer.

Briatore’s ban has since been overturned. For the Italian to return to the sport is good news for Alpine. However, others will question both his and the team’s credibility.

Why return to Alpine now?
Esteban Ocon waits to leave the pits at a rain-soaked Montreal (Image Credit: AlpineF1Team on X)
Esteban Ocon waits to leave the pits at a rain-soaked Montreal (Image Credit: AlpineF1Team on X)

The appointment of Briatore to Alpine is a curious move by a Renault board that has in the past not exactly been open to compromise in recent years. In 2017, it appointed legendary four-time world champion Alain Prost as a Special Advisor. The Frenchman departed at the end of 2021.

This speeded up an already fast-moving revolving door of management, with multiple restructures taking place in just one year. Infamously, Alpine fired Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane in mid-2023. 

Briatore’s appointment is an admission of defeat by a team that has seen its reputation sink in recent years. Many in the sport will welcome the flamboyant ex-team principal back with open arms. Others will despair at it.

Alpine can hire as many legends and former titans of the sport as it likes, but without allowing them to activate the many changes needed at the team. There is an argument to be made that parent group Renault now has its credibility in tatters after a bruising couple of weeks.

Alpine is parting with Esteban Ocon, with rumours also surfacing that the team is considering shelving its 2026 engine over concerns about its competitiveness. A works engine team considering this as a solution shows just how far the once mighty team has fallen. Renault hopes Briatore’s appointment will be the first step on a long road to recovery.

Is Briatore’s return a silver bullet solution?
Briatore speaks with Fernando Alonso (Image Credit:@MedF1osTV on X)
Briatore speaks with Fernando Alonso (Image Credit:@MedF1osTV on X)

Simply put, no. One appointment cannot magically resolve the deep issues at the Enstone team. After the raft of hiring and firings of recent years, Briatore’s return could be seen as the first real attempt by Alpine to steady its sinking ship. He brings a wealth of experience to the team he left in disgrace back in 2008.

His full duties at Alpine have yet to be disclosed. Still, the “Executive Advisor” role may indicate that the Italian will have two things past team principals and senior staff have sorely lacked: free reign and power to instigate change. In a brief statement, Alpine said:

“BWT Alpine F1 Team can confirm that Flavio Briatore has been appointed by Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo as his Executive Advisor for the Formula One Division”.

The team cryptically added that Briatore will “predominantly focus on top level areas of the team, including “scouting top talents and providing insights on the driver market, challenging the existing project by assessing the current structure and advising on some strategic matters within the sport”.

This statement does indicate that Briatore can start to alter the way the team operates. How public his profile will remain will remain a mystery for now. It will be intriguing to see if Alpine wants to show off their latest acquisition.

What are the repercussions for F1 and Alpine?

Briatore is a businessman at heart. For him to take a senior role with the powers he now has could indicate Renault is considering the nuclear option: selling the team.

In the last few days, Renault have reiterated that they remain committed to the sport. However, many are beginning to question why.

For argument’s sake, if Alpine is sold to Briatore (or another party with his involvement), a figure who was banned for F1’s only confirmed case of race fixing will be back in charge of the team he committed the offence with.

Of course, this will raise quite serious questions . F1’s ability (and willingness) to answer these will be telling as F1 grapples with how to be more transparent. Fans and journalists have short memories when desired. Asking people to ignore a previously banned team principal returning to the same outfit he was fired from may be too much to ask.

Feature Image Credit: PlanetF1 

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