Bernie Ecclestone

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Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone 2012 Bahrain (cropped).jpg
Ecclestone at the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix
Born Bernard Charles Ecclestone
(1930-10-28) 28 October 1930 (age 89)[1]
Bungay, Suffolk, England, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Businessman
Years active Since 1945
Net worth US$3.1 billion (2016)[2]
Title Chief Executive of Formula One Group
Spouse(s) Ivy Bamford (m. 1952–?, divorced)[3]
Slavica Ecclestone (m. 1985–2009) (divorced)[4]
Fabiana Flosi (m. 2012)
Children Deborah Ecclestone (born 1955)[5][6]
Tamara Ecclestone (born 1984)
Petra Ecclestone (born 1988)

Bernard Charles "Bernie" Ecclestone (born 28 October 1930) is a British business magnate.[7] He is the chief executive of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One and controls the commercial rights to the sport, and part-owns Delta Topco, the ultimate parent company of the Formula One Group. As such, he is generally considered the primary authority in Formula One racing and is most commonly described in tabloid journalism as "F1 Supremo".[8][9][10]

His early involvement in the sport was as a competitor and then as a manager of drivers Stuart Lewis-Evans and Jochen Rindt. In 1972, he bought the Brabham team, which he ran for fifteen years.[11] As a team owner he became a member of the Formula One Constructors Association. His control of the sport, which grew from his pioneering the sale of television rights in the late 1970s, is chiefly financial, but under the terms of the Concorde Agreement he and his companies also manage the administration, setup and logistics of each Formula One Grand Prix, making him one of the richest men in the UK, according to his net worth. Ecclestone entered two Grand Prix races as a driver, during the 1958 season, but failed to qualify for either of them.

Ecclestone and business partner Flavio Briatore also owned the English football club Queens Park Rangers between 2007 and 2011.[12]

Early life

Ecclestone was born in St Peter, South Elmham, a hamlet three miles south of Bungay, Suffolk.[13] The son of a fisherman, he attended primary school in Wissett before the family moved to Bexleyheath, south east London, in 1938.[13] Ecclestone left West Central Secondary School, Dartford[14] at the age of 16 to work as an assistant in the chemical laboratory at the local gasworks[15] testing gas purity. He also studied chemistry at Woolwich Polytechnic[14] and pursued his hobby of motorcycles.

Motorsports career

Early career

Immediately after the end of World War II, Ecclestone went into business trading in spare parts for motorcycles, and formed the Compton & Ecclestone motorcycle dealership with Fred Compton. His first racing experience came in 1949 in the 500cc Formula 3 Series, acquiring a Cooper Mk V in 1951. He drove only a limited number of races, mainly at his local circuit, Brands Hatch, but achieved a number of good placings and an occasional win.[11] He initially retired from racing following several accidents at Brands Hatch, intending to focus on his business interests.[16]

Team ownership

Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United Kingdom British
Active years 1958
Teams Connaught
Entries 2 (0 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 0
Career points 0
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First entry 1958 Monaco Grand Prix
Last entry 1958 British Grand Prix

After his accident, Ecclestone temporarily left racing to make a number of eventually lucrative investments in real estate and loan financing and to manage the Weekend Car Auctions firm. He returned to racing in 1957 as manager of driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, and purchased two chassis from the disbanded Connaught F1 team,[17] whose driver line-up over the years had included Lewis-Evans, Roy Salvadori, Archie Scott Brown, and Ivor Bueb. Ecclestone even attempted, unsuccessfully, to qualify a car himself at Monaco in 1958 (although this has since been described as "not a serious attempt"). He also entered the British Grand Prix, but the car was raced by Jack Fairman.[18] He continued to manage Lewis-Evans when he moved to the Vanwall team; Salvadori moved on to manage the Cooper team. Lewis-Evans suffered severe burns when his engine exploded at the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix and succumbed to his injuries six days later; Ecclestone was rather shaken up and once again retired from racing.

His friendship with Salvadori led to his becoming manager of driver Jochen Rindt[11] and a partial owner[19] of Rindt's 1970 Lotus Formula 2 team (whose other driver was Graham Hill). Rindt, on his way to the 1970 World Championship, died in a crash at the Monza circuit, though he was awarded the championship posthumously. In early 1972, Ecclestone purchased the Brabham team from Ron Tauranac.


During the 1971 season, Ecclestone was approached by Ron Tauranac, owner of the Brabham team, who was looking for a suitable business partner. Ecclestone made him an offer of £100,000 for the whole team, which Tauranac eventually accepted.[11] The Australian stayed on as designer and to run the factory.[20] Colin Seeley was briefly brought in against Tauranac's wishes to assist in design and management.

Ecclestone and Tauranac were both dominant personalities and Tauranac left Brabham early in the 1972 season. The team achieved little during 1972, as Ecclestone moulded the team to fit his vision of a Formula One team. He abandoned the highly successful customer car production business established by Jack Brabham and Tauranac – reasoning that to compete at the very front in Formula One you must concentrate all of your resources there. For the 1973 season, Ecclestone promoted Gordon Murray to chief designer. The young South African produced the triangular cross-section BT42, the first of a series of Ford powered cars with which the Brabham team would take several victories in 1974 and 1975 with Carlos Reutemann and Carlos Pace.

Despite the increasing success of Murray's nimble Ford-powered cars, Ecclestone signed a deal with Alfa Romeo to use their powerful but heavy flat-12 engine from the 1976 season. Although this was financially beneficial, the new BT45s were unreliable and the Alfa engines rendered them significantly overweight. The 1976 and 1977 seasons saw Brabham fall towards the back of the field again, before winning two races again in the 1978 season when Ecclestone signed the Austrian double world champion Niki Lauda, intrigued by Murray's radical BT46 design.

The Brabham-Alfa era ended in 1979, the team's first season with the up-and-coming young Brazilian Nelson Piquet when Alfa Romeo started testing their own Formula One car during this season. This prompted Ecclestone to revert to Cosworth DFV engines – a move Murray described as "like having a holiday".

Piquet formed a close and long lasting relationship with Ecclestone and the team, losing the title after a narrow battle with Alan Jones in 1980 and eventually winning in 1981 and 1983. In the summer of 1981 Brabham had tested a car powered by a BMW turbo engine, and 1982's new BT50 was powered by BMW's turbocharged 4-cylinder M10. Brabham continued to run the Ford-powered BT49D in the early part of the season while reliability and driveability issues were sorted out by BMW and their technical partner, Bosch. Ecclestone and BMW came close to splitting before the turbo car duly took its first win at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix but the partnership took the first turbo-powered world championship in 1983.

The team continued to be competitive until 1985. At the end of the year, Piquet left after seven years. He was unhappy with the money that Ecclestone was willing to offer him and went to Williams where he would win his third championship. The following year, Murray, who since 1973 had designed cars that had scored 22 GP wins, left Brabham to join McLaren. Brabham continued under Ecclestone's leadership to the end of the 1987 season, in which the team scored only eight points. BMW withdrew from Formula One after the 1987 season.

Having bought the team from Ron Tauranac for approximately $120,000 at the end of 1971, Ecclestone eventually sold it for over US$5 million to a Swiss businessman, Joachim Luhti.

Formula One executive

Michael Schumacher meeting Ecclestone in September 1991 at a sportscar race at Magny-Cours, France (Ecclestone's then-wife Slavica on the right)

In parallel to his activities as team owner, Ecclestone formed the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) in 1974 with Frank Williams, Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Ken Tyrrell, and Max Mosley. He became increasingly involved with his roles at FISA and the FOCA in the 1970s, in particular with negotiating the sport's television rights, in his decades-long advocacy for team control.[11]

Ecclestone became chief executive of FOCA in 1978 with Mosley as his legal advisor; together, they negotiated a series of legal issues with the FIA and Jean-Marie Balestre, culminating in Ecclestone's famous coup, his securing the right for FOCA to negotiate television contracts for the Grands Prix. For this purpose Ecclestone established Formula One Promotions and Administration, giving 47% of television revenues to teams, 30% to the FIA, and 23% to FOPA (i.e. Ecclestone himself); in return, FOPA put up the prize money – grand prix could literally be translated from French as "big prize".

Television rights shuffled between Ecclestone's companies, teams, and the FIA in the late 1990s, but Ecclestone emerged on top again in 1997 when he negotiated the present Concorde Agreement: in exchange for annual payments, he maintained the television rights.

Also in 1978, Ecclestone hired Sid Watkins as official Formula One medical doctor. Following the crash at the 1978 Italian Grand Prix, Watkins demanded that Ecclestone provide better safety measures, which were provided at the next race. This way, Formula One began to improve safety, decreasing the number of deaths and serious injuries along the decades.

Despite heart surgery and triple coronary bypass in 1999, Ecclestone has remained as energetic as always in promoting his own business interests. In the late 1990s he reduced his share in SLEC Holdings (owner of the various F1 managing firms) to 25%, though despite his minority share he retained complete control of the companies. Also in 1999, Terry Lovell published a biography of Ecclestone, Bernie's Game: Inside the Formula One World of Bernie Ecclestone (ISBN 1-84358-086-1). In April 2000 Ecclestone sold International Sportsworld Communicators to David Richards. ISC owned the commercial rights for the World Rally Championship.

The revenue sharing with the various teams, the Concorde Agreement, expired on the last day of 2007, and the contract with the FIA expired on the last day of 2012.

Other activities

Ecclestone came under fire in October 2004 when he and British Racing Drivers' Club president Jackie Stewart were unable to come to terms regarding the future British Grand Prix, causing the race to be dropped from the 2005 provisional season calendar. However, when the heads of the ten teams met and agreed on a series of cost-cuts later in the month, the race was again added to the calendar, and a contract on 9 December guaranteed its continuation for five years. In mid-November 2004, the three banks who comprise Speed Investments, which owns a 75% share in SLEC, which in turn controls Formula One – Bayerische Landesbank, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers – sued Ecclestone for more control over the sport, prompting speculation that Ecclestone might altogether lose the control he has maintained for more than thirty years. A two-day hearing began on 23 November, but after the proceedings had ended the following day, Justice Andrew Park announced his intention to reserve ruling for several weeks. On 6 December 2004, Park read his verdict, stating that "In [his] judgment it is clear that Speed's contentions are correct and [he] should therefore make the declarations which it requests."[21] However, Ecclestone insisted that the verdict – seen almost universally as a legal blow to his control of Formula One – would mean "nothing at all".[22] He stated his intention to appeal the decision. The following day, at a meeting of team bosses at Heathrow Airport in London, Ecclestone offered the teams a total of £260,000,000 over three years in return for unanimous renewal of the Concorde Agreement, which expired in 2008.[23] Two weeks later, Gerhard Gribkowsky, a board member of Bayerische Landesbank and the chairman of SLEC, stated that the banks had no intention to remove Ecclestone from his position of control.[24]

Ecclestone with King of Bahrain Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah and Russian President Vladimir Putin on tribunes of the races Formula One in Sochi. October 12, 2014

Ecclestone was a victim of theft in March 2005: two wheels were stolen from his car while it was parked outside his London home. The car, a brand new Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG, was said to be the first of its kind in Britain. On Friday, 17 June 2005, Ecclestone made American headlines with his reply to a question about Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish at the Indianapolis 500, during an interview with Indianapolis television station WRTV: "She did a good job, didn't she? Super. Didn't think she'd be able to make it like that. You know, I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances." (Following Danica Patrick's 2008 victory at Twin Ring Motegi, Ecclestone personally sent her a congratulatory letter).[25] Two days later, Ecclestone saw 14 of 20 cars refuse to race in the 2005 United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The seven teams who refused to participate, stating concern over the safety of their Michelin tyres, requested rule changes and/or a change to the track configuration. Despite a series of meetings between Ecclestone, Max Mosley, and the team principals, no compromise was reached by race time, and Ecclestone became an object of the public's frustration at the resultant six-car race. Despite him not having caused the problem, fans and journalists blamed him for failing to take control and enforce a solution, given the position of power in which he had placed himself.

On 25 November 2005 CVC Capital Partners announced it was to purchase both the Ecclestone shares of the Formula One Group (25% of SLEC) and Bayerische Landesbank's 48% share (held through Speed Investments). This left Alpha Prema owning 71.65% of the Formula One group. Ecclestone used the proceeds of this sale to purchase a stake in this new company (the exact ratio of the CVC/Ecclestone shareholding is not yet known). On 6 December Alpha Prema acquired JP Morgan's share of SLEC to increase its ownership of Formula One to 86%, the remaining 14% was held by Lehman Brothers. On 21 March 2006 the EU competition authorities approved the transaction subject to CVC selling Dorna, which controls the rights to MotoGP. CVC announced the completion of the transaction on 28 March. CVC acquired Lehman Brothers share at the end of March 2006. On 21 July 2007, Ecclestone announced in the media that he would be open to discuss the purchase of Arsenal Football Club. As a close friend to former Director of Arsenal David Dein, it was believed that the current board of the North London–based football club would prefer to sell to a British party, this after American-based investment company KSE headed by "Silent" Stan Kroenke were thought to be preparing a £650 million takeover bid for Arsenal Holdings PLC.

After the loss of Silverstone as the venue for the British Grand Prix in 2008, Ecclestone came under fire from several high-profile names for his handling of Formula One's revenues. Damon Hill blamed Formula One Management as a key factor in the loss of the event: "There's always been the question of the FOM fee, and ultimately that is the deciding factor. To quote Bernie, he once said: 'You can have anything you like, as long as you pay too much for it,' but we can't pay too much for something ... The problem is money goes out and away. There's a question whether that money even returns to Formula One."[26] Flavio Briatore also criticised FOM: "Nowadays Ecclestone takes 50% of all revenues, but we are supposed to be able to reduce our costs by 50%".[27]

On 7 January 2010, it was announced that Ecclestone had, together with Genii Capital, submitted a bid for Swedish car brand Saab Automobile.[28]

On the evening of 24 November 2010, whilst returning to his apartment in his central London offices with girlfriend Fabiana Flosi, four men ambushed the pair and robbed them of jewellery, including diamond rings and a watch, with a total value of £200,000 (Ecclestone later said, "I see a figure of £200,000 mentioned but that is bollocks. They won't be going far on what they took off us").[29] In what he called "a good whacking", 80-year-old Ecclestone was left unconscious and was taken to hospital with head injuries and a large black eye.[30] The image of Ecclestone's bruised face was later used in an advertisement by Hublot, the makers of the stolen watch, with the slogan "See what people will do for a Hublot".[31][32]

Queens Park Rangers

On 3 September 2007, it was announced that Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore had bought Queen Park Rangers (QPR) Football Club.[33] In December 2007, they were joined as co-owners by businessman Lakshmi Mittal, the 5th richest person in the world, who bought 20% of the club.[34] On 17 December 2010 it was announced that Ecclestone had purchased the majority of shares from Flavio Briatore becoming the majority shareholder with 62% of the shares.[35] It was announced on 18 August 2011 that Ecclestone and Briatore had sold their entire shareholding in the club to Tony Fernandes, known for his ownership of the Caterham Formula 1 team.[12]


Labour Party controversy

In 1997 Ecclestone was involved in a political controversy over the British Labour Party's policy on tobacco sponsorship.

Labour had pledged to ban tobacco advertising in its manifesto ahead of its 1997 General Election victory, supporting a proposed European Union Directive banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship.[36] At this time all leading Formula One Teams carried significant branding from tobacco brands. The Labour Party's stance on banning tobacco advertising was reinforced following the election by forceful statements from the Health Secretary Frank Dobson and Minister for Public Health Tessa Jowell.[37] Ecclestone appealed 'over Jowell's head' to Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, who arranged a meeting with Blair. Ecclestone and Mosley, both Labour Party donors, met Blair on 16 October 1997, where Mosley argued:

"Motor racing was a world class industry which put Britain at the hi-tech edge. Deprived of tobacco money, Formula One would move abroad at the loss of 50,000 jobs, 150,000 part-time jobs and £900 million of exports."[37]

On 4 November the "fiercely anti-tobacco Jowell" argued in Brussels for an exemption for Formula One. Media attention initially focused on Labour bending its principles for a "glamour sport" and on the "false trail" of Jowell's husband's links to Benetton.[37] On 6 November correspondents from three newspapers inquired whether Labour had received any donations from Ecclestone; he had donated £1 million in January 1997. On 11 November Labour promised to return the money on the advice of Sir Patrick Neill.[38] On 17 November Blair apologised for his government's mishandling of the affair and stated "the decision to exempt Formula One from tobacco sponsorship was taken two weeks later. It was in response to fears that Britain might lose the industry overseas to Asian countries who were bidding for it."[39] In 2008, the year after Blair stepped down as Prime Minister, internal Downing Street memos revealed that in fact the decision had been made at the time of the meeting, and not two weeks later as Blair stated in Parliament.[40]

Views on Women in motor racing

Comparison with "domestic appliances"

In 2005, when speaking about IndyCar racer Danica Patrick, he remarked "You know I've got one of those wonderful ideas ... women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."[41] Ecclestone later called Patrick to apologise, but repeated his comments,[42] before apologising a second time.[43] Earlier, in February 2000, he said that women would never excel in Formula One, stating "she would have to be a woman who was blowing away the boys. ... What I would really like to see happen is to find the right girl, perhaps a black girl with super looks, preferably Jewish or Muslim, who speaks Spanish."[41]

Not serious competitors

Following his 2015 campaign for an all women championship -opposed by drivers and manufacturers alike, in January 2016, he declared that teams wouldn't select a woman driver if they could find a competent male. Susie Wolff promptly launched a "Dare to be Different" campaign to prove him wrong.[44]

Hitler controversy and anti-semitism

In a Times interview published on 4 July 2009, Ecclestone said "terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was – in the way that he could command a lot of people – able to get things done."[45] According to Ecclestone: "If you have a look at a democracy it hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries — including this one", in reference to the United Kingdom.[45] He also said that his friend of 40 years Max Mosley, the son of British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, "would do a super job" as Prime Minister and added "I don't think his background would be a problem."[45]

Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, said: “Mr Ecclestone is either an idiot or morally repulsive. Either he has no idea how stupid and offensive his views are or he does and deserves to be held in contempt by all decent people.”[46] In a subsequent interview with The Jewish Chronicle, Ecclestone said that his comments were taken the wrong way, but apologised, saying, "I'm just sorry that I was an idiot. I sincerely, genuinely apologise."[47] However, when Ecclestone was later told by Associated Press that the World Jewish Congress had called for his resignation, he said "it's a pity they didn't sort the banks out," referring to the financial crisis of 2007–2010, and claimed "They have a lot of influence everywhere."[48]

Bribery accusation

In a 2012 trial against the former BayernLB Chief Risk Officer Gerhard Gribkowsky, the public prosecutor accused Ecclestone of being a co-perpetrator in the case. Gerhard Gribkowsky confessed to the charges of tax evasion, breach of trust and for accepting bribes. In closing arguments at a Munich trial the public prosecutor told the court Ecclestone "hasn't been blackmailed, he is a co-perpetrator in a bribery case". According to the prosecutor and defendant, Ecclestone paid about $44 million to the former banker to get rid of the lender's stake in Formula One. Ecclestone told prosecutors he paid Gribkowsky because he blackmailed him with telling UK tax authorities about a family trust controlled by Ecclestone's former wife.[49] In November 2012 private equity firm Bluewaters Communications Holdings filed a £409m lawsuit against the 2005 sale of Formula One, alleging it was the sports rightful owners.[50]

In May 2013 Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the Munich prosecutors office had charged Ecclestone with two bribery charges after a two-year investigation into his relationship with Gribkowsky.[51] In July 2013, German prosecutors indicted Ecclestone for alleged bribery. The charge relates to a $44 million (£29m) payment to Gribkowsky. It was linked to the sale of a stake in Formula 1.[52] Gerhard Gribkowsky, the BayernLB bank executive, was found guilty of taking $44m in bribes and failing to pay tax on the money.[53]

Ecclestone has stated that he only paid the monies, as he feared Gerhard Gribkowsky had information about his finances, that if made known to the Inland Revenue, would have been costly.[54]

On 14 January 2014, a court in Munich ruled that Ecclestone would indeed be tried on bribery charges in Germany,[55] and on 5 August 2014, the same court ruled that Ecclestone can pay a £60m settlement, without admitting guilt, to end the trial.[56]

Tax avoidance

Interviews conducted by a German prosecutor in the Gerhard Gribkowsky case showed that Ecclestone had been under investigation by the UK tax authorities for nine years, and that he had avoided the payment of £1.2 billion through a legal tax avoidance scheme. The Inland Revenue agreed to conclude the matter in 2008 with a payment of only £10 million.[57]


In 2011 Faber and Faber published Tom Bower's No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone, a biography purportedly written with Ecclestone's co-operation. Bower is best known for exposé biographies of controversial figures such as Robert Maxwell and Simon Cowell, leading some commentators (e.g. Brian Appleyard of the New Statesman) to express surprise over Ecclestone's co-operation.[58]

The book recounts an episode at the 1979 Argentinian Grand Prix in which Colin Chapman offered Mario Andretti $1000 to push Ecclestone into a hotel swimming pool in Buenos Aires. A nervous Andretti approached Ecclestone and confessed the plot, to which Ecclestone replied: "Pay me half and you can".[59]

Personal life

The Forbes World's Billionaires List of 2011 ranked Ecclestone as the 4th richest person in the United Kingdom, with an estimated fortune of $4.2 billion,[60] an increase of $200 million from the previous year.[61]

In early 2004, he sold one of his London residences in Kensington Palace Gardens, never having lived in it, to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal for £57.1 million, at the time making it the most expensive house ever sold.[62] At Grand Prix venues Ecclestone uses a grey mobile home as his headquarters, Known as "Bernie's bus", on race days it is "the hub of the paddock."[63] In 2005 Ecclestone sold his £9 million yacht Va Bene to his long-time friend Eric Clapton.

Ecclestone has been married three times. He has a daughter, Deborah, with first wife Ivy. Deborah and her husband gave him his first grandchild, a grandson. That grandson himself has children, making Ecclestone a great-grandfather. In total, Ecclestone has five grandchildren; in addition to his grandson by Deborah, he has two granddaughters and two grandsons[64] by his youngest daughters as of 2015.

Ecclestone also had a seventeen-year relationship with Tuana Tan which ended in 1984, when Slavica (later his second wife) became pregnant.[65]

He was then married to Slavica Ecclestone (née Radić) for 23 years. Radić was born in the town of Rijeka in Croatia in the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia in 1958. She is a former Armani model who is 28 years his junior.[66]

The couple have two daughters, Tamara Ecclestone (born 1984) and Petra Ecclestone (born 1988). The Sun newspaper announced on 20 November 2008 that Slavica Ecclestone had moved out of the family home and filed for divorce.[67] Slavica settled their divorce amicably with her receiving a reported $1 to 1.5 billion settlement.[68] The divorce was granted on 11 March 2009.[69]

In April 2012 Ecclestone announced his engagement to 35-year-old Fabiana Flosi who was the Vice-President of Marketing for the Brazilian Grand Prix.[70][71] The news of their marriage became public 26 August 2012.[72]

Complete Formula One World Championship results


Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 WDC Points
1958 B C Ecclestone Connaught Type B Alta Straight-4 ARG MON

* car raced by Jack Fairman

Awards and honours


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