PEOPLE: BERNIE ECCLESTONE

Name: Bernie Ecclestone
Nationality: Great Britain

Bernie Ecclestone, Hungarian GP 2000

Bernie Ecclestone, Hungarian GP 2000 

 © The Cahier Archive

Born in a small village near Bungay in Suffolk, Ecclestone was the son of a trawler captain and he spent his childhood in the town of Wangford, near Southwold. The family then moved to Bexleyheath in southeast London and Ecclestone left school at 16 and went to work at the local gasworks where his father had a friend who was in charge of the chemical laboratory. He was employed as an assistant there.

His passion was motorcycle scrambling and he began competing in the immediate postwar era. As machinery was scarce he began buying and selling motorcycle spare parts, doing the business during his lunch break. He built up the spares business and then went into business with Fred Compton to form the Compton & Ecclestone motorcycle dealership. He later bought out Crompton and built the business into one of Britain's biggest motorcycle dealers. In 1949 he tried his hand a four-wheeled racing in the 500cc Formula 3 series but after a big accident at Brands Hatch, in which he ended up hitting a car in the car park behind Paddock Hill Bend, he decided to concentrate on business which grew to include the Weekend Car Auctions firm (which he eventually sold to British Car Auctions), loan financing and property.

In 1957 Ecclestone returned to the sport as manager of Welsh racing driver Stuart Lewis-Evans. He bought the F1 Connaught team and ran the cars for Lewis-Evans, Roy Salvadori, Archie Scott-Brown and Ivor Bueb. He even tried to qualify one of the cars himself at Monaco in 1958.

At the end of that year Lewis-Evans, who was by then driving a Vanwall, suffered serious burns when his engine blew up during the Moroccan GP and he later died as a result. Ecclestone abandoned the sport again but in the early 1960s his friendship with Salvadori, who was by then running the Cooper team, led to a meeting with Jochen Rindt. Ecclestone became Rindt's manager and business partner and in 1968 and 1969 he was involved in running the Lotus Formula 2 factory team which was running Rindt and Graham Hill.

In September 1970 Rindt was on his way to winning the World Championship for Lotus when he was killed in an accident at Monza. He became posthumous World Champion. Ecclestone again quit the sport but at the start of 1972 he decided to buy the Brabham team from Ron Tauranac and set about turning it into a winning force. In an effort to get the sport more organized he was one of the founders of the Formula 1 Constructors Association in 1974, along with Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Max Mosley, Ken Tyrrell and Frank Williams. He led the team owners in a battle with the FIA in 1975 for a new system of entries and appearance money being paid to all the teams. In 1976 the teams won the battle and there began to be trouble over the sale of TV rights. In January 1978 Ecclestone became chief executive of FOCA with Mosley as his legal advisor and a new battle began with the FIA's new affiliate FISA which was the brainchild of Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre. The battle for the commercial control of the sport continued until March 1981 when the Concorde Agreement gave FOCA the right to negotiate TV contracts. That year Brabham won the World Championship with Nelson Piquet driving. There would be a second victory in 1983 with BMW engines.

At the end of the first Concorde Agreement in 1987 Ecclestone became the FIA Vice-President in charge of Promotional Affairs and began to spend less time on Brabham. At the end of that year the team lost its sponsorship and Ecclestone decided to take a year out of racing. He sold the team to Alfa Romeo in preparation for the new Procar Championship. When the new series failed to get off the ground Alfa Romeo had no use for the team and so it was sold to a Swiss businessman Joachim Luhti.

The sale of the F1 TV rights originally belonged to all the teams but in the early days the business was risky and not very profitable. Ecclestone gradually distanced himself from the other team owners and eventually they allowed him to establish Formula One Promotions and Administration to manage the rights for them. TV revenues were split with 47% going to the teams, 30% to the FIA and 23% to FOPA. FOPA, however, received all the fees paid by promoters. In exchange for this FOPA paid prize money to the teams.

In 1995 the FIA decided to grant the commercial rights to F1 to Formula One Management for a period of 14 years, in exchange for an annual payment from Ecclestone. The F1 teams were upset as they found that they had lost the rights. McLaren, Williams and Tyrrell refused to sign the new 1997 Concorde Agreement but the other eighth teams backed down.Eventually an agreement was reached for a 10-year deal with the teams and a 15-year deal with the FIA. Once this has been agreed Ecclestone began to plan for the flotation of his company.

The European Commission began an investigation into the Formula 1 business and eventually this led to the flotation being cancelled and in 1999 Ecclestone issued a $1.4bn Eurobond, secured on the future profits of the company. Later that year he sold 12.5% of the business to the venture capitalist company Morgan Grenfell Private Equity for $325m. In February 2000 sold another 37.5% to the San Francisco investment company Hellman & Friedman for $725.5m. These two then combined their shares and sold them to Thomas Haffa of EM.TV in exchange for $1.65bn in cash and shares.

When EM.TV ran into trouble the shares passed to Leo Kirch who acquired another 25% of the business leaving the Ecclestone Family with only 25% of the business but despite heart surgery in June 1999 Ecclestone remains firmly in charge of F1.

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