Bernie Ecclestone the king of Formula One
FORMULA One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was standing by a hotel swimming pool in Buenos Aires in 1979 when he was approached by a nervous-looking racing driver called Mario Andretti.
The Italian confessed that he had been offered $1,000 (£800) by Colin Chapman, the owner of Lotus Cars, to push Ecclestone into the pool.
Instead of waxing indignant and marching off to confront Chapman, Ecclestone said: “Pay me half and you can.”
In many ways this anecdote encapsulates everything you need to know about Ecclestone. He has lots of enemies. He is so ruthless he frightens people. And he lets nothing get in the way of pulling off a good deal – least of all personal dignity.
But on Monday the 86-year-old who had seen off at least three attempts to depose him in the 40 years he spent at the top of F1 was finally forced out by the men from Liberty Media, the US corporate giant that has just completed a £6.4billion takeover of the sport.
Ecclestone can look back on a rags-to-riches story
“I was dismissed,” Ecclestone told a German motorsport magazine. “ I no longer run the company. My position has been taken by Chase Carey (a former vice chairman of 21st Century Fox].”
Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser
It’s a sad day for the man who once said: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” But Ecclestone can look back on a rags-to-riches story which is calculated to inspire anyone brought up on the wrong side of the tracks.
He son of a Suffolk trawlerman, he was never shown much love as a child. The young Bernard was eight by the time his parents Sidney and Bertha gave him his first birthday cake and as he grew older he took to spending his time in a shed in the garden where he would tinker with motorcycle engines and parts.
The F1 magnate's daughters Petra And Tamara
He left school at 16 and raced motorbikes before graduating to cars, firrst as a driver, then as a driver manager and finally as a team owner.
Twenty years after marrying his first wife, Ivy, in 1952 Ecclestone bought the Brabham F1 outfit for £100,000 and this gave him automatic membership of the Formula One Constructors Association (F1CA), the body that was to give him the powerbase from which to dominate F1 for decades. At the first meeting he attended he disarmed his fellow members by pouring the tea and so when he suggested he be given the right to negotiate the sale of TV rights and a sizeable chunk of the revenue the idea was waved through.
“TV was peripheral to the sport at the time so no one saw the significance of this move,” Tom Bower, the author of a biography called No Angel: The Secret Life Of Bernie Ecclestone, wrote later.
German Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher jokes with Bernie Ecclestone
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“But it became the cornerstone of his fortune as he singlehandedly transformed motor racing from an underfunded sport into an international TV phenomenon watched by billions. He became owner not only of the hospitality and advertising rights at race circuits worldwide but also the lucrative TV rights in more than 100 countries.”
By 1982, the 5ft 2in Ecclestone was a figure to be reckoned with in the pits. He knew the names of all the team members and threw out anyone he spotted who wasn’t entitled to be there. It was when he attempted to eject one particularly statuesque Croatian model that he stumbled across wife number two.
Aged 23 and 6ft 2in tall, Slavica Malic was 28 years younger and a foot taller than Ecclestone and threatened to kick him if he came any nearer. Impressed by her feistiness he invited her for lunch despite the fact that he was by then involved in a 17-year relationship with a Singaporean beauty called Tuana Tan. A year later Slavica was pregnant with their first child Tamara and Tuana had been dumped.
Mr Ecclestone dominated the world of Formula One for four decades
In 1985 the pair embarked on a tempestuous marriage. While Ecclestone was a meticulous man who polished his shoes and straightened curtains , Slavica was a fiery type who threw plates . At one point her husband fixed a sign on the kitchen door: “Never mind the dog, beware of the wife.”
The couple had another daughter Petra in 1988 but eventually Slavica moved out in 2008 after 23 years of marriage. People used to joke: “When is Bernie Ecclestone taller than his wife? When he stands on his wallet.” But he was cut down to size by a divorce that left him £960million poorer.
Today Ecclestone is married to his third wife Fabiana Flosi, a Brazilian 47 years his junior . Most men of his age would be calling for the pipe and slippers but it’s hard to believe that we’ve heard the last of the diminutive billionaire who has such a lust for power they call him Napoleon.