Flavio Briatore has fired a broadside at his former employee and current F1 2010 World Championship leader Jenson Button – claiming the McLaren-Mercedes star's successes to-date this season have been achieved through 'luck' and contending that the defending world champion is 'not among the five quickest drivers' in the top flight.
Briatore was Button's boss at Benetton/Renault in 2001 and 2002, campaigns during which the Briton struggled with generally uncompetitive machinery and was more often than not outperformed by more experienced team-mates Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli – and during which the Enstone-based outfit's now disgraced ex-managing director was rarely slow to criticise his young charge.
The pair split on acrimonious terms, and prior to the Frome-born ace's title run last year, Briatore uncharitably likened him to a paracarro
– a concrete bollard. Despite Button having defied the cynics by showing the way to highly-rated team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton this year and triumphing in two of the opening four grands prix – demonstrating speed, tactical guile and excellent judgement to take the chequered flag first in both Melbourne and Sepang – it seems the Italian is still far from convinced he is the real deal.
“We'll see how it ends up between Button and Hamilton at the end of the season,” he is quoted as having said by the Daily Mail
. “Jenson has done well – he's won two races and we know why. He was able to manage things and had luck on his side. I don't speak badly of him; I just say he is not among the five quickest drivers in F1.”
The famously outspoken and acerbic Briatore similarly had something to say on the subject of F1 returnee Michael Schumacher, who has to-date found it difficult to re-adapt and has been roundly outshone by his young team-mate Nico Rosberg at Mercedes Grand Prix, notching up just ten points so far to his countryman's excellent tally of 50.
The recently-turned 60-year-old was in charge as 'Schumi' sped to the first two of his record-breaking seven world championship crowns at the highest level with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, but he now agrees with those who suggest it was a mistake for the most successful driver in the sport's long history to come back and try to rule the world for a second time.
“I think it will be harder and harder for him,” he told Italian magazine Autosprint
, when asked if things might get easier for the 41-year-old now the F1 circus is back on European soil. “I don't know how he can recover. The competition is fierce. He made the decision to return without thinking that, in four years, the cars and the tyres have changed massively.
“I've always said it would be difficult for him to stay ahead of Rosberg. You can't come back in such a competitive sport after four or five years. [Alain] Prost did, but only one season had gone by. Instead, he's found some tough customers because in F1 there have never been drivers as good as this year – Hamilton, Fernando [Alonso], [Sebastian] Vettel, Rosberg...”
As to the likelihood of a comeback of his own, Briatore re-iterated his assertion that he will never again manage an F1 team even once the 'Singapore-gate' ban imposed upon him by governing body the FIA – for having presided over one of the most explosive scandals in recent sporting memory – expires at the end of 2012.
“After winning seven titles with two different teams, to add an eighth wouldn't change anything,” he explained. “Winning with Renault in 2005/06 was a miracle, and you can't do miracles all the time. Seeing the way it is now, I don't enjoy it and the adrenaline to do it is not there anymore. This is something I don't miss at all.”