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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Briatore, His Racing Ban and His QPR Future

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The Times - September 23, 2009 Flavio Briatore facing end of the road at QPR as opposition grows - Kevin Eason, Sports News Correspondent; Edward Gorman, Motor Racing Correspondent

Flavio Briatore was the loneliest man in football last night as fans, lawyers and politicians called for him to be thrown out of his club and the game.

Even though Briatore was believed to be preparing to hit back with his own legal defence against the damnning accusations of cheating in Formula One, there were few signs of support for the owner of Queens Park Rangers, who could find himself treated as a pariah in football.

But the ramifications of Briatore’s case set a massive test for football’s legislators, who will be treading on virgin territory as they decide what to do with the maverick millionaire who brought his Formula One champagne swagger and riches to the modest stands of Loftus Road in the CocaCola Championship.

Lawyers believe that Briatore fails by some distance the Football League’s fit and proper persons test after being banned indefinitely from Formula One. Briatore, the former managing director of the Renault team, was accused of being one of the perpetrators of a plan to have Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crash his car in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix so that their lead driver, Fernando Alonso, could go on to win.

The Football League’s test is explicit: no director or owner of a club can be “the subject of a ban from a sports governing body relating to the administration of that sport”. The Football League, though, will be forced to examine every potential legal loophole before acting, which rules out any quick decisions. Lord Mawhinney, the chairman, is waiting for delivery of the official findings by the FIA, the Formula One governing body, before instructing his lawyers to carry out an investigation that could take months.

But with Briatore’s credibility in tatters, few in football believe that he can carry on at QPR, legally or morally, while the pressure builds on football’s regulators not to allow the game to fall into weeks of uncertainty.

Hugh Robertson, the Conservative Shadow Sports Minister, called for the Football League to remove Briatore and, if he refuses to go, consider giving him a deadline in which to sell his stake in QPR or impose sanctions on the club.

“Of course Mr Briatore is not fit to run a football club,” he said. “It is difficult to see how anyone convicted of one of the worst cases of cheating on record in one sport could possibly be considered fit and proper in another.”

Briatore, 59, is reported to be considering legal action against the FIA to clear his name, saying he was “distraught” that his reputation had been so damaged. But Kuldip Singh, QC, one of Britain’s leading sports lawyers, believes that Briatore’s case was fatally wounded when he failed to show up at the FIA court hearing on Monday in Paris to defend himself.

“Whether he sues in Paris or in an English court, he is going to have to give an explanation for why he did not defend himself,” he said. “He would seem likely to fail there. If he was to argue in some way that the prosecution falls short of legal requirements, I think he will be skating on thin ice when it comes to the fit and proper persons test.”

As the Football League prepares for one of the sternest tests of its authority, QPR fans started to fear that the Devil they have known for the past two years might be better than the financial unknown. More than 6,000 fans will watch their team play Chelsea in the Carling Cup third round at Stamford Bridge tonight with a question on their lips: if Briatore is forced out, what happens to their club?

“The fans are always the people who suffer,” Paul Finney, co-founder of the Independent R’s fan website, said. “We have never been sure how committed Briatore was to the club. Was it business, for football or just a plaything? If he walks away, will he care if the club is simply liquidated? Probably not.

“He has done some good things and plenty of bad things, but from the fans’ point of view, we have to know what is going to happen to the club. The most important thing for the Football League to make sure of is that QPR survives.” With Briatore’s track record, his tenure in football always promised to be colourful. After acquiring QPR two years ago for £25 million, in alliance with Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial rights-holder and one of his best friends, he alienated fans with higher ticket prices .

The new “boutique” image — with a directors’ box that featured Naomi Campbell, the supermodel, among others — did not sit well with the fans and the revolving door at the entrance had managers spinning through it with frightening regularity.

Luigi De Canio lasted 35 matches and Iain Dowie only 15 as he walked out claiming that Briatore was picking the team. They were just two of the casualties.

Ecclestone watched the comings and goings with a wry smile but he was being seen last night as the man who could broker a way out for his old chum. Ecclestone had brought Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s fifth richest man, into QPR as a shareholder, and fans hope that the Indian steel magnate will buy Briatore’s 54 per cent stake.

That would open the door for the flamboyant Italian to walk out of Loftus Road, a final exit for one of sport’s greatest showmen — and one of its greatest cheats. Times

[**** A "clarification" from Independent R's Paul Finney]

The Times -September 23, 2009 - Flavio Briatore: Questions and answers about his future - Kevin Eason, Sports News Correspondent

Flavio Briatore — kicked out of Formula One and time he was kicked out of football. Why doesn’t the Football League get on with it?

The Football League has a duty and obligation to give Briatore a fair hearing, if nothing else. And if his time really is up, it needs to make sure that every legal nicety is followed, or it could end up in an expensive court case. It will apply the fit and proper persons test, but that is not as easy as it looks.

Why not? Just tell him to go if he fails.

Yes, but his position is confusing. The fit and proper persons test applied to a dodgy director is easy — if he fails, just give him his red card and he walks. But Briatore is the chairman of Queens Park Rangers’ holding company as well as a club director. The Football League could withdraw his club directorship, but getting him out of the holding company could be tricky.

Why? Just tell him he can’t take part any longer. Ban him from Loftus Road or something.

Never heard of a mobile phone? Briatore is a legendary control freak and accusations are rife that he interfered with the running of the team. Even if he is not a club director, who stops him meddling in day-to-day affairs and how? Much more difficult than it looks and presents the Football League with a significant problem unless it finds a way to get him to walk away from QPR for good.

Why doesn’t Briatore just put QPR up for sale?

And make a loss because everybody knows he needs to sell up? More likely that Bernie Ecclestone, his co-owner and friend, is trying to work something out with Lakshmi Mittal, who is worth about £26 billion and whom they convinced to buy 20 per cent of the club. Amit Bhatia, Mittal’s son-in-law, is vice-chairman of QPR Holdings and maybe his father-in-law believes he could take on the club as a full-time job. At least Briatore might get a decent price from Britain’s fifth-richest man.

It just seems like Briatore would walk away with a few quid and there will be no losers.

Except for one man: Felipe Massa.

Er, give up. Don’t understand the link with a Ferrari driver when we are talking football.

Fair enough but here is an intriguing question yet to be answered: after the FIA’s decision that Renault’s win in Singapore last year was, effectively, illegal, will Ferrari ask for the result of the race to be declared void?

Don’t care if they do, don’t care if they don’t.

You should. If the points from that race are officially erased, Lewis Hamilton is no longer the 2008 Formula One world champion. Massa lost the title by a point — take out the race in Singapore and the Brazilian is champion by five points. Wouldn’t you consider a request to the FIA with a World Championship at stake?

Friends in high places

Flavio Briatore has the wealth and contacts to rise above the debris of his collapsing sporting empire.

• The Italian is estimated to be worth £120 million, a fortune he built by spreading the Benetton clothing brand across the United States before moving into Formula One, where he became an entrepreneur and driver manager. He also has a clothing line called, somewhat discreetly, er, Billionaire.

• Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, is said to be a good friend and Briatore’s shareholding in Cipriani, the restaurant that is a favourite haunt of London’s celebrities, ensures his contacts book is packed.

• Briatore has got it and flaunts it. He has the inevitable yacht, Force Blue, which features 12 luxurious cabins, a Turkish bath and a gym; a private jet; and a penthouse that overlooks the Thames, as well as an $11 million (about £6.7 million) penthouse in New York. Oh, and don’t forget his place in Sardinia, where he has an exclusive nightclub.

• Briatore, charming in several languages, has been accompanied by Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum. His new wife is Elisabetta Gregoraci, 29, a former bikini model. Times

The Times/Edward Gorman - Ban on Flavio Briatore too harsh, says Bernie Eccelstone

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial rights-holder, spoke yesterday of his sorrow for his friend, Flavio Briatore, the former managing director of the Renault Formula One team, and said that he felt the Italian had been overly punished by the FIA.

Briatore was handed an indefinite ban from all FIA-sanctioned motor sport on Monday as part of the FIA’s adjudication in the Crashgate” scandal, a decision that has left the Italian multi-millionaire reportedly “devastated” and considering legal action against motor sport’s governing body.

Ecclestone was part of the 26-member FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) that made the decision in Paris and he also broke the news of the ban to Briatore. “I spoke to him and gave him the results,” Ecclestone said. “I feel very sorry for him. I thought the punishment was probably a bit harsh but I don’t know how it can be changed. I don’t think he deserved it. I think he should have had his hand slapped.”

Ecclestone would have preferred a limited ban of something like 18 months but he also said that Briatore, who Ecclestone is satisfied knew about the conspiracy to have Nelson Piquet Jr crash his car on purpose at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix to help the team's other driver, Fernando Alonso, to win the race, could have helped his own cause. “I tell you one thing, an apology from him might have helped," Ecclestone said. "I think it was pretty well established that he knew what was going on.”

There have been suggestions that Briatore may even try to organise his own rival championship to Formula One, a proposition which looks somewhat ambitious given the lurid allegations against him. Briatore was a leader of a putative breakaway from Formula One earlier this year, but Ecclestone does not believe that he could now get a rival series off the ground.

“Well, he’s going to find it difficult because the FIA controls most of the circuits, the key people and everything else,” the billionaire impressario said. “When he had a following wind earlier this year, he couldn’t get it done so it’s going to be even harder now. He wouldn’t get a following from the people that matter.”

In its judgment, the governing body said it had “confirmed” that Briatore, together with Pat Symonds, Renault’s former director of engineering, “were involved in the conspiracy” in Singapore.

While Renault, as a company, escaped with only a suspended ban from Formula One to run for the next two years, Briatore and Symonds were heavily punished with the Italian not only banned from any event in motor sport held under the aegis of the FIA but unable to continue his driver-management business. This means that the four Formula One drivers under contract to him - Alonso, Romain Grosjean, Heikki Kovalainen and Mark Webber - are now required to seek the services of someone else.

Briatore strenuously protested his innocence of involvement in the “Crashgate” plot during interviews at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza ten days ago and maintained that he had never been involved in any attempt to deliberately crash a car during a grand prix. He later resigned from the Renault team because he said he felt “morally responsible” for the affair.

However he did not appear in Paris on Monday before the FIA’s sporting court, the WMSC, to argue his case. Few have come to Briatore’s defence as this scandal has unfolded and it seems likely that the man himself is restricted by what he can say, possibly as a result of the terms he agreed when parting with Renault.

Coming to his defence yesterday, however, was the outspoken head of the Spanish motor sport federation, Carlos Gracia, who said that he, too, was shocked by the indefinite ban on Briatore. “Briatore’s penalty seems to me excessive,” Gracia said. “There was no clear proof against him and he was not able to defend himself, either. Morever, I wouldn’t rule out him going to ordinary justice because he has been left without his means of earning a living.”

Gracia’s comments follow his earlier call that Piquet be punished for his role in the affair, rather than escape with immunity from the FIA. The Times

The Times September 23, 2009 Witness X sealed Flavio Briatore’s fate in 'Crashgate' Kevin Eason, Sports News Correspondent

A member of the Renault team known only as Witness X finished the Formula One career of Flavio Briatore and could yet lead the Italian to be banished from football.

Evidence from the “Crashgate” inquiry released late last night detailing the most explosive case of cheating in sporting history d***s Briatore, the former managing director of the Formula One team and owner of Queens Park Rangers Football Club.

Briatore was banned for life from motor-racing activities, including managing drivers, after the hearing in Paris on Monday held by the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, for his role in the conspiracy that forced Nelson Piquet Jr to crash his Renault in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix so that Fernando Alonso, his team-mate, could win.

But Briatore is also under pressure to walk away from QPR as fans, lawyers and politicians told The Times that they believe he cannot continue, morally or legally, as a key figure in any sport.

Briatore was protesting his innocence yesterday and said that he would take legal action to clear his name. But the extent of his connivance was laid bare by a whistleblower within the Renault team — referred to in the FIA evidence as Witness X and whose identity is known only to a handful of insiders, including Max Mosley, the FIA president.

Witness X came forward on the eve of the FIA World Motor Sport Council hearing to reveal the elaborate details of the plot as Renault executives struggled to piece together events in their internal inquiry.

According to Witness X, Briatore knew all about the plan and the architect was Pat Symonds, Renault’s once highly respected director of engineering.

The FIA statement said: “Witness X was told of the idea suggested by Nelson Piquet Jr by Mr Symonds, whilst in the presence of Mr Briatore. Witness X objected to the idea. He did not know the plan was to be carried into effect until the crash happened.

“As a result of the evidence, including Mr Piquet’s admission, Mr Symonds’s responses and Witness X’s evidence, Renault F1 concluded that they and Mr Briatore must have known about the conspiracy.”

The trio kept the plan secret from the rest of the team, which explains why the FIA was keen to go easy on Renault, handing out a two-year suspended ban to the manufacturer team, while cracking down on Briatore and Symonds, who was banned from motor racing for five years. Piquet was given immunity for revealing the plot.

The FIA dismissed Briatore’s suggestion that he had no knowledge of the affair and refused to accept his version of events, ruling he was “personally and directly involved in the planning of the conspiracy”. Even worse, Briatore was Piquet’s manager at the time.

Symonds is revealed as a victim of Briatore’s demanding regime. He was a longstanding employee of Renault — known as Benetton and Toleman before the French company took control. While Briatore refused to attend the FIA hearing on Monday, Symonds rejected the chance of immunity but wrote a letter expressing his “eternal regret and shame”.

“I was the one who, when the idea was first suggested to me by Nelson Piquet Jr, should have dismissed it immediately,” he said. “I can only say I did it out of a misguided devotion to my team and not for any personal gain whatsoever. I consider the role I have played in bringing the team to where it is today to be my life’s work.

“In a single action, I have destroyed the high reputation I have built up during a 33-year career in motor sport.” Times

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Mail - Flavio Briatore ponders legal action in bid to clear his name over Renault crash scandal
.' Mail

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." London Informer

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