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Bernie Ecclestone

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British billionaire Bernie Ecclestone (center) is often called the owner of Formula One.

Bernard Charles Ecclestone (born October 28 1930), commonly known as Bernie, is the president and CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration, and owns such large percentage shares in the various companies which run the sport that he is generally considered the primary authority in Formula One racing. His control of the sport, which resulted from his pioneering the sale of television rights in the late 1970s, primarily covers its financial aspects, but under the terms of the Concorde Agreement he and his companies also manage the administration, setup and logistics of each Formula One grand prix.

Contents

Motorsports career

Early life

Ecclestone was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and shortly thereafter moved near London, leaving school at age 16 to work at the local gasworks and pursue his hobby, motorcycles. Immediately after the end of World War II, Ecclestone went in to business trading in spare parts for motorcycles, and formed the Compton & Ecclestone motorcycle dealership with Fred Compton. His first racing experience came with 500cc Formula 3 Series; he drove at a very few events, and gave up in 1951 after an accident at the Brands Hatch circuit when his car landed in the car park on the outside of the track.

Team ownership

After his accident, Ecclestone temporarily left racing to make a number of lucrative investments in real estate and loan financing and to manage the Weekend Car Auctions firm. He returned to racing in 1957 as manager of driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, and purchased the F1 Connaught team, whose drivers included Lewis-Evans, Roy Salvadori, Archie Scott-Brown, and Ivor Bueb. Ecclestone even attempted, unsuccessfully, to qualify a car himself at Monaco in 1958.

He continued to manage Lewis-Evans when he moved to the Vanwall team; Salvadori moved on to manage the Cooper team. Lewis-Evans suffered severe burns when his engine exploded at the Moroccan Grand Prix and succumbed to his injuries six days later; Ecclestone was rather shaken up and once again retired from racing.

Soon enough, however, his friendship with Salvadori led to his becoming manager of driver Jochen Rindt and a partial owner of Rindt's Formula 2 team, Lotus (whose other driver was Graham Hill). Rindt, on his way to the 1970 World Championship, died in a crash at the Monza circuit, though he was awarded the championship posthumously.

In early 1972, Ecclestone purchased the Brabham team from Ron Tauranac and began his decades-long advocacy for team control of F1, forming the Formula One Constructors Association with Frank Williams, Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Ken Tyrrell, and Max Mosley. Hereabouts arose the continuing question of television rights.

FISA-FOCA war

Ecclestone became chief executive of FOCA in 1978 with Mosley as his legal advisor; they negotiated a series of legal issues with the FIA and Jean-Marie Balestre, culminating in Ecclestone's famous coup, his securing the right for FOCA to negotiate television contracts for the Grands Prix. For this purpose Ecclestone established Formula One Promotions and Administrations, giving 47% of television revenues to teams, 30% to the FIA, and 23% to FOPA (i.e. Ecclestone himself); in return, FOPA put up the prize money - grand prix is French for "big prize".

Television rights shuffled between Ecclestone's companies, teams, and the FIA in the late 1990s, but Ecclestone emerged on top again in 1997 when he negotiated the second Concorde Agreement: in exchange for annual payments, he would maintain the TV rights. The contract with the various teams was to expire on the last day of 2007, and that with the FIA on the last day of 2012.

Recent activity

Despite heart surgery and triple coronary bypass in 1999, Ecclestone has remained as energetic as always in promoting his own business interests. In the late 1990s his share in the various F1 managing firms dwindled to 25%, though despite his minority share he retained complete control of the companies.

Also in 1999, Terry Lovell published a biography of Ecclestone, Bernie's Game: Inside the Formula One World of Bernie Ecclestone (ISBN 1843580861).

Ecclestone came under fire in October 2004 when he and British Racing Drivers Club president Jackie Stewart were unable to come to terms regarding the future British Grand Prix, causing the race to be dropped from the 2005 provisional season calendar. However, when the heads of the ten teams met and agreed on a series of cost-cuts later in the month, the race was again added to the calendar, and a contract on December 9 guaranteed its continuation for five years.

In mid-November 2004, the three banks who comprise Speed Investments, which owns a 75% share in SLEC, which in turn controls Formula One - Bayerische Landesbank, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers - sued Ecclestone for more control over the sport, prompting speculation that Ecclestone might altogether lose the control he has maintained for more than thirty years. A two-day hearing began on November 23, but after the proceedings had ended the following day, Justice Andrew Park announced his intention to reserve ruling for several weeks. On December 6, 2004, Park read his verdict, stating that "In [his] judgment it is clear that Speed's contentions are correct and [he] should therefore make the declarations which it requests" [1] (http://www.itv-f1.com/News_Article.aspx?PO_ID=31709). However, Ecclestone insisted that the verdict - seen almost universally as a legal blow to his control of Formula One - would mean "nothing at all" [2] (http://www.itv-f1.com/News_Article.aspx?PO_ID=31710). He stated his intention to appeal the decision.

The following day, at a meeting of team bosses at Heathrow Airport in London, Ecclestone offered the teams a total of 260,000,000 over three years in return for unanimous renewal of the Concorde Agreement, which expires in 2008 [3] (http://www.itv-f1.com/News_Article.aspx?PO_ID=31718).

Weeks later, Gerhard Gibkowsky, a board member of Bayerische Landesbank and the chairman of SLEC, stated that the banks had no intention to remove Ecclestone from his position of control [4] (http://www.itv-f1.com/News_Article.aspx?PO_ID=31793).

Ecclestone was victim to an embarrassing theft in March of 2005 - Two wheels were stolen from his car while it was parked outside his London home. The car, a brand new Mercedes Benz CLS55 AMG V8, was said to be the first of it's kind in Britain.

In 2005, Ecclestone made American headlines with his reply to a question about Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish at the Indianapolis 500: "She did a good job, didn't she? Super. Didn't think she'd be able to make it like that. You know, I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances." [5] (http://msn.foxsports.com/motor/story/3701634).

Soon after, an embattled Ecclestone saw 14 of the 20 cars (7 of 10 teams) refuse to race the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The seven teams who refused to participate, stating concern over the safety of their Michelin tires, requested rule changes and/or a change to the track configuration. The FIA and Ecclestone refused. Compromise could not be reached by race time, causing the teams to withdraw. The reaction from sportcasters and fans worldwide was that of shock, disappointment, and disgust. Many place at least partial blame with Ecclestone for poorly handling the situation.

Political involvement

In 1997 Ecclestone was involved in a scandal when it transpired he had given the Labour Party a million pound donation - which raised eyebrows when the Labour government changed its policy to allow Formula 1 to continue being sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. The Labour Party returned the donation.

Personal details

The Sunday Times Rich List of 2003 ranked Ecclestone the 3rd richest person in the United Kingdom, with an estimated fortune of 2,400m. He fell to eighth place in 2004's Sunday Times Rich List, his fortune having decreased to 2,343m. In early 2004 he sold his London residence to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal for $128 million, making it the most expensive house ever sold.

Ecclestone is married to Slavica Ecclestone, a Croatian former Armani model who is 28 years his junior, with whom he has two daughters, Tamara and Petra.

References

External links

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