Ecclestone – F1′s Napoleon with a nose for business
The 83-year-old British magnate’s grip on F1 has remained utterly steadfast in the face of the German bribery trial which starts in Munich on Thursday.
Ecclestone has refused point blank to step aside despite the legal storm swirling around him.
He denies charges of bribery and abetting breach of trust in relation to a $44 million payment he made to former German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, which was linked to the sale of Formula One’s rights in 2006.
Although facing a possible prison sentence if found guilty the notion of F1 without Ecclestone sends shivers through the motor racing fraternity.
“F1 is what it is thanks to Bernie Ecclestone, to the way he has built this sport over the past 35 years,” his compatriot Christian Horner, team principal at world champions Red Bull, said last year when asked about a possible succession.
“I think that without him we would have big problems.”
Despite his advancing years, Ecclestone brushed off suggestions that he was soon to retire in typically pugnacious fashion before February’s British High Court action related to the same case.
Insisting then that his legal woes would not lead him to resign he told German newspaper Bild. “I don’t see why I should do that, I will do what I have always done: keep working and do my job.”
- $3.8 billion fortune -
Dubbed “Napoleon” due to his 1.63-metre (five foot, four inch) stature and firm control over F1, Ecclestone was valued by Forbes magazine at $3.8 billion in March 2013, making him one of the richest 500 people in the world.
He is no stranger to controversy.
He was in the spotlight in late 1997 owing to a donation of 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million, 1.75 million euros) to the British Labour Party of then prime minister Tony Blair, which subsequently authorised the continued use of tobacco advertising by the sport.
Holder of a degree from Woolwich Polytechnic in southeast London, Ecclestone, known for his trademark white shirt and black trousers, began his career selling cars and motorcycles in the capital, and also briefly drove race cars himself.
However, his career was cut short by an accident in the early 1970s, and he set up the Brabham team.
Then, with competitors, he established the Formula One Constructors Association, gathering around him the other chiefs of motor racing stables to defend their interests against what became the International Automobile Federation (FIA).
One of the first to recognise the potential in sponsorship, he became the exclusive manager of F1 rights, taking the helm of Formula One Management, negotiating with circuits, advertisers and television stations.
“The contracts he negotiated, the circuits and the countries to which he brought F1, are remarkable.
“As long as he has the passion and enthusiasm to continue it is in our interests that he does it as long as possible,” Horner has said.
“The day he is no longer there our sport will go much less well,” said the man some see as a potential successor.
Ecclestone’s fortune has been little dented despite his having had to pay out one billion euros ($1.3 billion) to divorce his wife Slavica — the mother of his two children Tamara and Petra — and to remarry in 2012 the 37-year old Brazilian Fabiana Flosi, whom he met at the South American country’s Grand Prix.
The Munich trial represents a huge test for Ecclestone, as German justice is not known for its lenient treatment of sporting figures – Boris Becker was badly bruised by his scrap with it and Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness was sentenced to a jail term although he has yet to serve the time.
The question being asked up and down the F1 pitlane is: How will Bernie get out of this?
- Formula One chief Ecclestone expecting bribery charges to be cleared before trial
- Banker reveals Ecclestone paid him $44m bribe to assist business deal
- Red Bull chief Horner not too keen to succeed Ecclestone
- Ecclestone back in Formula 1 after bribery case settlement
- Ecclestone confident of returning as F1 director once bribery case ends