Motor racing-Briatore returns to F1 as adviser to Renault's de Meo

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 2, 2024 Flavio Briatore is seen ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

(Reuters) -Former Benetton and Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore is returning to the sport as executive adviser to Renault chief executive Luca de Meo, the French carmaker's Alpine team announced on Friday.

The flamboyant Italian businessman, now 74, remains a controversial figure in Formula One due to his involvement in one of the biggest scandals in the sport's history.

Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Junior's deliberate crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix became known as 'Crashgate' and led to then Renault boss Briatore being handed a lifetime ban from Formula One in 2009.

The ban was subsequently overturned by a French court in 2010 and the Italian has made sporadic appearances in the paddock since then.

The controversy resurfaced when former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa took legal action against Formula One and the governing FIA over the 2008 championship outcome.

Briatore had previously led Renault to their most successful era in Formula One with Fernando Alonso world champion in 2005 and 2006. He also led Benetton when Michael Schumacher took his first titles in 1994 and 1995.

"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," Alpine said in a statement at the Spanish Grand Prix.

"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."

Alpine are struggling this season and are eighth in the constructors' standings with just five points from nine races. The team have already announced that French driver Esteban Ocon will leave at the end of the year.

There has been speculation about Renault's continued involvement in the sport and as an engine manufacturer when a new era starts in 2026.

The current Renault engine, used only by Alpine, is known to be down on power compared to rivals and huge investment will be required for the new one.

Alpine, Renault's sportscar brand, could instead compete with a power unit bought in from a rival such as Mercedes or Red Bull.

Briatore has experience on the engine side, running the Supertec company that provided a number of teams with Renault Mecachrome engines in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Italian also remains close to former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, now 93, while pursuing business interests in restaurants, nightclubs and fashion as well as driver management.

He was also instrumental in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix securing a place on the calendar.

Alpine have seen considerable upheaval of late, with a string of senior figures from the Briatore era departing. The team are now led by Bruno Famin, who comes from the engine side of the business.

Alonso, who has been managed by the Italian through his career, is now at Aston Martin after leaving Alpine at the end of 2022 and in April signed a new deal at the age of 42.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by William Maclean, Peter Rutherford)

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