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Bernie the billionaire

FORMULA 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone could become one of the wealthiest people in Britain if his plans to float his company Formula One Promotions and Administration (FOPA) company go ahead this summer.

Last year The Sunday Times ranked Ecclestone the 55th richest man in Britain, with a fortune estimated at around $400m. If the floatation of FOPA goes ahead Ecclestone is likely to collect as much as $4 billion. He will probably continue to run the company which he has built up in dramatic fashion in the last 10 years. There has been talk of flotation since late last year and negotiations have been talking place in recent months between Ecclestone and the American investment bank Salomon Brothers, which would oversee the launch of the company on the London and New York stock exchanges.

A spokesman for the bank has confirmed the talks but says that no decision has yet been taken about the structure of the deal, the timing of the flotation and the valuation of the shares.

Ecclestone (66) has been involved in Grand Prix racing since the early 1970s and led the F1 team owners in a lengthy battle over the television rights to the sport with the governing body of worldwide motor racing, the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

In the years that followed Ecclestone distanced himself from the other team owners and gradually took over all the promotional rights to F1 himself - taking huge financial risks which the others would not agree to. In order to do this he created FOPA, which was independent of the team organization which was known as FOCA. The risks paid off and in 1993 Ecclestone hit the headlines when he became the highest salary-earner in British history with pay of $47.5m. The following year he made $47m. His extraordinary wealth has given him all the trappings of wealth. He has two private jet aircraft, a $11m nine-story London headquarters overlooking Hyde Park which he bought from Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, and an astounding private car collection, including hundreds of classic production cars and Grand Prix racers.

Bernie's earning has created jealousy among some of the team owners who worked with him in the early days who now argue that they have a right to more of these millions that he is willing to pay them.

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