SINGAPORE // Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights-holder of Formula One, feels the life ban on Flavio Briatore for race fixing was too harsh and advised the former Renault team boss that he should appeal against the decision to the sport's governing body.
The Briton said the departure of the flamboyant Italian, banished this week by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) for his role in Nelson Piquet Jr's deliberate crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix, was a loss to the sport. "In my opinion it was quite harsh on Flavio," the 78-year-old billionaire, Briatore's friend and business partner, said. "I don't think it was necessary, but I was on the [FIA] commission so I am probably just as guilty as anyone else. On reflection it wasn't necessary."
Ecclestone, who is in Singapore for this weekend's Grand Prix, nodded when asked if Formula One would miss Briatore. "Absolutely... We need people like him. It was too much." The motorsport tycoon, in a relaxed and jovial mood, felt Briatore may have been better served if he had acted differently ahead of the hearing last Monday. "He was invited to appear ... and his lawyers said the FIA have no jurisdiction as far as he is concerned, which was probably right - but it was not the right thing to say," said Ecclestone.
"It would have been just as easy to say 'I was caught with my hand in the till, it seemed a good idea at the time, and I am sorry.' "There is an organisation that works very, very well on that idea - where the people go to a box and confess," he smiled. "Honestly, I am a friend of Flavio's. He has just handled the whole thing badly. He could have handled it in a completely different way... and that would have been the end of it."
Ecclestone, who is a co-owner of the English football club Queen's Park Rangers with Briatore, urged his partner to appeal to the FIA but steer clear of any legal action. "He should ask to be heard by the court of appeal. He should appeal to the FIA," he said. "If he goes to a civil court ... the FIA would have to defend and somebody will say that he sent a young guy out to what could have been to his death. It wouldn't go down too well, I wouldn't think."
Mark Webber, the Red Bull driver and a protege of Briatore, also agreed that life would be very different without him. "I have had Flavio look after me for years. I never looked at a contract after I signed it ... and there are not many people in the paddock you can do that with." * Reuters