Bernie Ecclestone started out as a simple second-hand car salesman and went on to transform Formula One into one of the most profitable sports in the world.
A new chapter dawned for the sport and the evergreen 85-year-old as US billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media agreed a takeover that values the business at $8 billion.
After months of talks with the sellers, Liberty agreed to retain the canny and combative son of a fisherman, who insists his role as the puppet master of the sportwill remain unchanged
“I will stay on as F1 chief executive,” Ecclestone told the Autosport website. “I will continue to do all the things I have previously done, such as negotiate with the circuits, television companies and people like that.”
Ecclestone, who built Formula One into a global operation over nearly four decades, will work alongside 21st Century Fox vice chairman Chase Carey who was named as the new chairman of thesport.
“I’ll keep on doing what I have always done,” said Ecclestone, who turns 86 in October.
“The good news is we will have someone on board in Chase, and he will hopefully be able to push F1 into new territories with social media. I have never found a way to make money from that.”
– ‘Big problems’ –
Ecclestone has been the flamboyant figure at the centre of Formula One since the 1970s, crafting it into one of the world’s most glamorous and best knownsports.
But his career has not been without controversy.
Ecclestone paid $100 million to German authorities to end a high-profile bribery trial in 2014, which was linked to the sale of Formula One’s rights in 2006 and 2007.
Although he had faced a possible 10-year prison sentence if found guilty, those in the F1 paddock remained steadfast allies.
“F1 is what it is thanks to Bernie Ecclestone, to the way he has built this sport over the past 35 years,” his compatriot Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull, said at the time. “I think that without him we would have big problems.”
– $4.2 billion fortune –
Dubbed “Napoleon” due to his 1.59-metre (five foot three inch) stature and firm control, the fortune of Ecclestone is valued by Forbes magazine at $4.2 billion, making him one of the richest 400 people in the world.
“I prefer strong leaders,” he said, stoking up controversy in 2009 by claiming that Adolf Hitler was a man who “was able to get things done” and that democracy had not worked out for Britain.
He was also in the spotlight in late 1997 over a donation of 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million, 1.75 million euros) to the British Labour Party of then prime minister Tony Blair, which subsequently authorised the continued use of tobacco advertising by the sport.
Holder of a degree in chemistry from Woolwich Polytechnic in southeast London, Ecclestone, known for his grey mop-top hairstyle, began his career selling cars and motorcycles in the capital, and also briefly drove race cars himself.
His own modest career was cut short following a series of accidents and he turned to the business side of racing.
He was a manager of promising British F1 driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, who died following a fiery crash in 1958. A decade later he managed Austrian Jochen Rindt, who was also killed in a crash in 1970 and is the only driver to posthumously win the F1 world title.
Two years later Ecclestone bought the Brabham team, becoming a member of the Formula One Constructors’ Association, the group that represented the teams’ interests against what became the International Automobile Federation (FIA).
Ecclestone’s influence increased as he took over responsibility for negotiating television rights for thesport, which until then was done on a race-by-race basis.
– ‘Passion, enthusiasm’ –
One of the first to recognise the potential in sponsorship, he became the exclusive manager of F1 rights, taking the helm of Formula One Management, negotiating with circuits, advertisers and television stations.
“The contracts he negotiated, the circuits and the countries to which he brought F1, are remarkable,” Horner said.
Ecclestone’s fortune has been little dented despite having had to pay out one billion euros ($1.3 billion) to divorce his wife Slavica — the mother of two of his children, Tamara and Petra.
In 2012, he remarried for a third time, to Brazilian Fabiana Flosi, 46 years his junior and whom he met at the South American country’s Grand Prix.
His family was in the headlines again this year when his 67-year-old mother-in-law Aparecida Schunck Flosi Palmeira was kidnapped, with a ransom of $36.5m demanded.
Brazilian police tracked her down and arrested a helicopter pilot who worked for the British billionaire’s family. – Agence France-Presse