SEPTEMBER 29, 1997
Richards confirmed at Benetton
IT was no great surprise when Benetton finally announced that Flavio Briatore is to leave the team and that David Richards has been appointed chief executive.
Richards remains the chairman and the major shareholder in Prodrive which will continue to operate independently of Benetton.
Richards said that he intends to spend a few weeks "learning and listening" before making any changes to the structure of the team but confirmed that Benetton does have a two-year contract to run Mecachrome V10 engines - something which Briatore refused to confirm although the deal was done several months ago. The only logical explanation was that Briatore was trying to find someone to badge the engine differently.
Richards admitted that he has been looking at F1 for some time. "I considered building a team from nothing," he confirmed, "but I realized that this was completely out of the question given the financial resources necessary. I also looked at buying a team but ruled that out for similar reasons."
Briatore remains coy about his future, the team announcing that he is leaving to "take on new challenges". In a letter to the teams Briatore said that "at this point" his future plans do not have anything to do with football, although - in the finest traditions of F1 - "at this point" means that tomorrow there may be a completely different story. Briatore did say, however, that he intends to have a three-month holiday, probably onboard his brand new multi-million dollar motor yacht.
In a bizarre note of farewell, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that F1 would miss Briatore's charm although more than a few people in the paddock seemed not to agree, Briatore's buccaneering business methods having upset many F1 insiders along the way.
Ecclestone added that "contrary to popular belief, due to media speculation, I would like to make it clear that although Flavio is a friend of my family I have never had any business association with him or any of his companies - other than through Benetton Formula". Quite why Ecclestone felt to need to distance himself from Flavio remains to be seen...
There is speculation in the paddock that Briatore may still be involved in F1 in some respect but this seems unlikely as he does not seem to fit into the new corporate F1 which will develop as soon as Formula 1 Holdings is floated. We also understand that Briatore has got rid of his shareholding in the Minardi team, Gabriele Rumi and his associates having bought him out.