Chequered flag for playboy of the paddock

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The Independent Online

Log on to Flavio Briatore's exceptionally snazzy website and the epithets come at you thick and fast (with Italian translation below). "A successful manager", "A versatile entrepreneur", "An inspiring leader", "A competitive achiever", they read, following each other in an interminable cycle of self-aggrandizement. They give some indication of just how flash Flavio is. And how much he knows it.

Though he can't claim to have been one of Formula One's original playboys (the sport is too old for that), he may be one of the last. Effortlessly flamboyant, Briatore has spent three decades living a life of international glamour, and receiving publicity to match.

Last year the 59-year-old married Elisabetta Gregoraci, an Italian model three decades his junior. They wed in a lavish ceremony in a 12th century basilica near the Vatican, at which Briatore presented his wife an 18K white gold ring, designed by jeweller DeGrisogono. He had previously dated models Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum. He has a daughter with the latter, and their relationship is alleged to have finished when he was spotted kissing another woman while she was pregnant. All of which has, of course, been documented by the paparazzi.

And yet, for all that, he cannot be dismissed as just so much glitz, a schmooze merchant with no nous. Far from it: having been raised by two teachers near Cuneo in north Italy, he worked first as a ski instructor and then on the Milan Stock Exchange. In 1974 he met fashion icon Luciano Benetton, who was so impressed he sent his new protégé to launch the label's operation in the US. In 1989 he launched the Benetton Formula One team, and two years later he poached Michael Schumacher from rival Eddie Jordan.

Two years ago he bought Queen's Park Rangers with Bernie Ecclestone. On top of that, he owns a company that manages several of the sport's drivers, and in the past few years launched his own "Billionaire" clothing brand. His critics claim the name says all you need to know about Billionaire Briatore.