• The Inside Line

Mr Fix-It

Kate Walker July 29, 2014
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So Flavio Briatore is being brought back into Formula One as a consultant, where he will advise the teams and commercial rights holder on how to spice up the F1 show, bringing back the eyeballs that drive sponsors and ensuring that what's currently broke with the sport gets fixed.

Given that the last time Briatore was linked with fixing Formula One there were court cases, the loss of long-term sponsors ING, and the departure of the Renault team, the wisdom of his appointment looks to be somewhat questionable.

Like Pat Symonds, who was also involved in the scandal known as Crashgate, in which Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix in order to deliver a race win for the luckless Fernando Alonso, Briatore was issued with a multi-year ban from the sport.

Symonds made a return in small steps, initially serving as a consultant for Marussia before taking on a job with Williams when his ban expired and using his expertise to help turn around the Grove racer's fortunes.

As Briatore's official five-year ban does not expire until the end of the 2014 season, the Italian must also serve his time as a consultant before being brought back into the fold. But Briatore has never been very far away - in addition to his occasional appearances in the Monaco paddock, he is said to be the man who brokered the deal for the forthcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Briatore has also never been shy of voicing his opinions on anything and everything F1, from recent title fights to the new engine formula, ensuring that his profile remains public and his name firmly entrenched within the paddock consciousness.

There is no denying that the flamboyant Italian is good at attracting headlines, nor that he has a natural flair for the dramatic. A man whose professional origins are in the realm of sales, not sport, he has been banging the drum for the show for as long as he has been in Formula One.

Briatore's focus on the show dates back decades, and in 1994 he was already complaining that the sport was becoming too technical. "All the team owners are orientated towards the technical side rather than the entertainment side, and this is a big fault," he said. "Every meeting that I go to, people are talking about pistons and suspensions. Nobody goes to a race to see that kind of thing… People come to see Schumacher and Senna racing each other."

While Briatore may well be the perfect man for the job of reigniting dwindling fan interest, his return is likely to be damaging in the long term. Formula One has already suffered bad publicity thanks to the Bahrain Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone's legal difficulties, and the forthcoming race in Sochi (to name but a few recent negatives), and to reignite our association with a headline hunter best known for running the team behind Crashgate is hardly a shortcut to good publicity.

But even if Briatore's reputation was similar to that of Mother Teresa, the Italian will find that he has a very difficult task indeed on his hands. Old fans are turning off, some because they don't like the new era of racing, and others because they can no longer afford to watch the sport on subscription TV networks. New fans aren't beating down our door because our approach to online access and the move to pay TV make it very hard indeed to stumble across Formula One on a Sunday afternoon and fall in love with what they see.

If Briatore is given the power to open up the internet, he could well become the Mr Fix-It that F1 is looking for. But if he is simply there to bolster madcap schemes like sprinklers, success ballast, and double points, then he will remain the Mr Fix-It of Singapore 2008.