- Full name Bernard Charles Ecclestone
- Birth date October 28, 1930
- Birthplace St. Peters, Suffolk, Great Britain
- Current age 84 years 308 days
- Height 1.59 m
- Teams Connaught
- Other roles Administrator, Team Owner
|First race||Monaco Grand Prix||Monaco||May 18, 1958||Race results|
|Last race||British Grand Prix||Silverstone||July 19, 1958||Race results|
Admired and detested in equal measure, Bernie Ecclestone is regarded to be single-handedly responsible for the global appeal and commercial success of F1 today. From modest beginnings selling second hand motorbike parts, Ecclestone has become one of the richest and most influential people in the world of sport.
The son of a trawler captain, Ecclestone was born in Suffolk and moved to Bexleyheath in Kent aged eight. After leaving school at 16 he joined the local gasworks, but even at a young age he showed his entrepreneurial nature, buying and selling spare motorbike parts in his spare time. In 1949 he started racing, but after a series of accidents at Brands Hatch, he gave up racing to pursue his business interests.
The Ecclestone enterprise was born when he went into business with a friend, Fred Compton, forming Compton & Ecclestone which became one of Britain's biggest motorcycle dealerships. His business empire continued to grow with property interests, and a car auction company amongst other businesses, and in 1957 he bought the struggling F1 team Connaught and attempted to qualify himself for the British Grand Prix. He also went into management, managing Welsh driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, but when his driver died after crashing at the Moroccan Grand Prix, Ecclestone abandoned the sport.
He re-entered the sport briefly a few years later, managing a successful Lotus Formula Two team with Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill, but following Rindt's death at Monza in 1970 he quit motor racing once more. He returned again in 1972 when he bought Brabham, and watched it became a winning force with drivers such as Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet.
It was at this time that Ecclestone's career in F1 began to blossom and he founded the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and with the help of his lawyer and friend Max Mosely began to gain control of the sport's management and finances. The pivotal moment in his career was his awareness of the potential of television coverage. He united the teams and secured global TV rights, setting up Formula One Promotions and Administration (FOPA), and splitting TV revenue between the teams (47%), the FIA (30%) and FOPA (23%), and in return FOPA provided the prize money.
Until the late 1990s Bernie Ecclestone enjoyed a relatively modest life, managing to stay out of the public eye until scandal forced him ingloriously into the spotlight in 1997. Shortly after Tony Blair was Moseley's guest at the 1996 British Grand Prix, Ecclestone made a £1million donation to the Labour Party. However, just after Labour's election victory in May 2007, Health Secretary Frank Dobson pledged to ban all tobacco advertising in sport, forcing Ecclestone to act. In October he and Moseley visited Blair at Downing Street, and two weeks later the government made a U-turn and argued for F1 to be given an eight-year cool-down period to wean themselves off the multimillion pound industry. Speculation then circulated that Ecclestone had made a large donation to the party, and Lord Neill, the parliamentary standards watchdog, advised Labour to return the money. Both Labour and F1 suffered a dent to their reputation.
Despite undergoing heart surgery and triple coronary bypass in 1999, Ecclestone is still going strong, and there is no sign of the godfather of F1 letting go of his empire any time soon.
Strengths and weaknesses
Determination, shrewdness, a remarkable eye for business opportunities, a skin thicker than a rhinoceros and an indestructibility which has enabled him to survive everything that has come his way. He is prone to speaking his mind which in a PC conscious age does not always generate good publicity, but to Ecclestone that's water off a duck's back. He is also accused, not unfairly, of putting money before anything else and is blamed by many for the increasing number of races in areas with little local love for the sport.
When Ecclestone became chief executive of the Formula One Constructors' Association in 1978 it set in motion a chain of events which led to him becoming not only the head of the sport but also an immensely rich man. The key was when he gained the right for FOCA to negotiate TV deals.
After his own brief racing career floundered, Ecclestone moved into management and was handling the up-and-coming Stuart Lewis-Evans when he suffered horrendous burns at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix and died six days later. Ecclestone turned his back on the sport for almost a decade.
"You know I've got one of those wonderful ideas ... women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances" - Ecclestone on women in F1 "They think they've got me by the balls--their hands aren't big enough." - Ecclestone when Williams and McLaren refused to sign the Concorde Agreement in 1998
The Sunday Times Rich List of 2009 ranked Ecclestone as 24th richest person in the United Kingdom, with an estimated fortune of £1.466 billion