Nelsinho Piquet is not the only F1 driver whose career has been 'destroyed' by disgraced former Renault F1 managing director Flavio Briatore, Sébastien Bourdais has revealed – as the Frenchman admitted the famously irascible Italian was 'a big problem' for him throughout his time in the top flight.
Bourdais was unceremoniously dismissed by Scuderia Toro Rosso mid-season this year in favour of F1 rookie and 2008 British F3 Champion Jaime Alguersuari, following a string of lacklustre performances and a persistent failure to get the better of inexperienced young team-mate and namesake Sébastien Buemi, despite a strong end to his own maiden campaign at the highest level during which the record-breaking former multiple Champ Car king had come on in leaps and bounds and suggested he had finally got to grips with the very different driving style this side of the Pond.
Had it not been for Briatore, though, Bourdais' career might have panned out very differently indeed. As reigning International F3000 (now GP2 Series) champion in 2002, he impressively tested for Renault at Jerez in December, but after being unwilling to sign a management deal with the Enstone-based outfit's boss in addition to a testing deal, the role of test driver for 2003 went instead to compatriot Franck Montagny, leaving the man from Le Mans to head Stateside to ply his trade in Champ Cars, with outstanding success.
“There was a story with Flavio when the French [motor sport] federation decided to try and help a new and coming French driver to make it to F1,” Bourdais told 422race.com
, “but he only proposed a management contract with no guarantees. Unfortunately I had to decline the offer, because it was never going to work. It was crazy.
“Basically the French federation and Renault F1 had agreed to promote a French driver, and then they didn't agree on the terms of the agreement – so Renault F1 with Flavio went one way and the French federation tried to find the money, which they mostly did. Flavio was trying to repeat what he had done with [Mark] Webber the year before, when David Sears didn't need the money because he had the money from Vodafone – but this year he needed the money, because he had no sponsors. Flavio was trying desperately to make a deal with him, and I knew that wasn't going to happen because David told me 'I can't do it, there is no chance'.
“In the end the French federation succeeded in finding a lot of money, with the French government, Playstation and Renault – not Renault F1, just Renault, which pi**ed Flavio [off] even further – and so it happened. They made up the difference and I signed a management agreement with him, because it was part of the deal. Flavio got really angry about that, and from that point on he became a big problem for my career.”
Briatore, of course has hit the headlines again of late – for all the wrong reasons – for having been found guilty of being one of the key architects of the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal that has rocked F1 in recent weeks and not only cost the 59-year-old his job, but also earned him an effective lifetime ban from all involvement in any FIA-sanctioned form of motorsport. Bourdais, unsurprisingly, has little sympathy.
“I don't care,” shrugged the 30-year-old. “What should I care about? If he's done or not done what he's been found guilty of, it's his business. I never interfered in his business – it doesn't concern me. What do I think about it? He's been banned from F1 for cheating. Is it too much, not enough? I don't know. He's not there anymore.
“He destroyed me long enough. It's not about revenge or anything, it's nothing personal, but he has been a pain for me for so many years. I just tried to leave him alone and tried to make sure he was leaving me alone as well, but it wasn't quite this way...”