Bernie Ecclestone. This is one of the most cherished names in the history of F1, despite him not being much of a racing driver. Instead, he was to become one of the best entrepreneurs in the history of F1. He started young, selling pens and cakes. He realized it wasn’t about the money. It was the thrill that he liked. He liked the process of making deals—the money was just a side product (dailymail.co.uk).
One of the biggest things Ecclestone did was essentially globalize and commercialize F1. Others saw F1 as a sport, whereas he saw it as a potential avenue waiting to be taken advantage of. He didn’t exactly develop something to become a billionaire, but much like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, he took things to new heights with acumen, experience, and passion (wikipedia.org).
One of the things he likes is the amount of control he has over F1 and, consequently, the amount of power he wields over what becomes of F1. However, his penchant for control isn't just limited to F1. If anything, it’s the other way. He had a liking for being in control; F1 just happened to be one part of his life. He says he’s a perfectionist but in a good sense. He cares about how things are, whether it involves a line of some F1-related contract or how his yacht looks. But he doesn’t necessarily care about the color of the toilet paper at the Grand Prix venues (dailymail.co.uk).
Let’s dive in!
20 Childhood = Living Frugally
He was born to a fisherman father and a home-confined mother in St. Peter, South Elmham, in the Waveney District of Suffolk in Eastern England. I don’t know what the population of his hometown was back when he was just a child, but in 2010, the population of that village was 40. Yes, 40. As you can tell, his childhood wasn't going to be something that anyone would call lavish. In fact, his parents, his mother, in particular, were exceptionally tight about money. On paydays, she demanded the wages from her husband to avoid any unnecessary purchases (thegentlemansjournal.com). As you’ll see in other entries, this upbringing stuck with him, and he was careful enough to make sure the habit of frugality remained with him.
19 Idea #1: Shortcuts
He has some unique ideas. One of the things he wanted to introduce was the ability to take shortcuts in the F1 races. The reasoning behind the idea is pretty simple
. "Imagine a shortcut that a driver can use five times every race,” said Ecclestone. It would stop people getting stuck behind others and be good for TV,” he added.
While ways to improve overtaking is nothing new to the game, and despite however bizarre this sounds to you, it seems like an okay idea. In fact, Lewis Hamilton even experimented with this idea in one of the races, when instead of remaining on the track, he went straight through the turf and back to track again—he was already leading and gained even more distance from the gimmick.
18 Tobacco Tumult
The scene was set. It was 1997, and England was intent on banning tobacco sponsorships as officials considered how detrimental the effects of tobacco were. The Labor Party of England had decided that it would put a ban on all means and mediums of tobacco advertising and sponsorships. This was going to be a problem for F1, as it had a huge financial investment from the tobacco brands. This led to Ecclestone’s going over to a Labor Party official, in particular, discussing the matter with Tony Blair. Ecclestone argued: "Motor racing was a world-class industry, which put Britain at the hi-tech edge. Deprived of tobacco money, Formula One would move abroad at the loss of 50,000 jobs, 150,000 part-time jobs, and £900 million of exports" (wikipedia.org). And bam, out of fear, an exception was made for F1.
17 Idea #2: Gold Medal
Ecclestone didn’t like the fact that Lewis Hamilton once had the leeway to finish fifth and still steal the title. He thought the point system wasn't bringing out the best of the drivers and pushed for a system where drivers with the most victories would earn the title. However, Hamilton was not ecstatic at all about this, stating, “Out of the many ideas that have come out, this is potentially one of the worst. I would say it's not his greatest idea.” Hamilton also stated he liked how the points system has been working in F1 and that it's been like that since forever, adding that the point system doesn’t necessarily prevent one from doing his or her best (theguardian.com). While the idea may have been slightly entertained in 2009, it was dropped shortly.
16 Thirst For Entrepreneurship Occurred Early In Life
He was a hardworking guy from very early in life. During the Second World War, when he was under the age of 10 or so, he would wake up early in the morning—not 6 AM but 5 AM—to sell papers and day-old cakes (he would sell the cakes at school for a decent profit). I don’t know about you, but when I was around 10 years old, I definitely didn’t wake up at 5 AM. More importantly, I didn’t even have the self-control to not eat cakes. He was different, though. One day, his mother asked him if he ever ate the cake, and he said: “No, that’s my profit.” Those weren't the only endeavors he took on; he also got some cash from picking fruit and selling pens (thesun.co.uk.com).
15 Childhood Part II: Gang
Let me elaborate on the subheading, lest you get the wrong idea. The guy is exactly five feet tall, so when he was growing up, he had to be petite compared to classmates. And he was. But he was also smart enough to realize that besides making money, he needed power. Remember, he had already started making money by picking fruits and selling cakes and pens.
He formed a gang for the protection of his cash, says thesun.co.uk.
He also lived through WWII. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you to know that his family spent a lot of nights in the bomb-raid shelter. That’s how he sums up his childhood: “Bombs” (thesun.co.uk.com).
He has a lot—A LOT—of money. So, it should be no surprise that he’s involved with various financial transactions on any given day. I’m not talking about mundane transactions, though, as much as at the corporate level. Buying stocks, changing partnerships, etc.—well, that’s expected. However, he's done a little more. He once paid BayernLb bank executive Gerhard Gribkowsky $44M as a bribe. Turns out, Gribkowsky was privy to confidential details about Ecclestone’s financial history, which, if made public, would've cost him more money. So, he paid that sum to keep matters quiet. However, Eccleston was still tried on bribery charges in Germany, and the court said he could pay around $85M and resolve the matter, which he did… Umm, did the court just ask for a bribe?
13 Idea #3: Sprinklers
Ecclestone suggested that the roads be fitted with sprinklers that would stimulate rainy conditions. He was looking to spice things up in F1 with the unique idea, Ecclestone stating,
“We do it so that nobody knows when it is going to happen, like when it rains, I think it will make a lot of entertainment.”
While the idea was not well received, it gained some traction as it dragged on for a while. Another official backed up Ecclestone’s idea, saying, “The idea is not as daft as it sounds.” A former racing driver also supported the idea, stating, “Many of the best races in the past few years have been when it has rained.” However, some other drivers, including Mark Webber, were against his idea (dailymail.co.uk).
12 Cajoling And Coaxing
While working in the laboratory, he used to find cheap motorbikes and parts that he could sell for a profit. Well, he kept at it, and one day, this earned him more money than testing the purity of gases. So, he approached a local motorcycle shop for a job, and it was there that he became known for his business acumen. He then tried to team up with “Compton & Fuller” but was rejected. But being the guy he was, he made them a very lucrative offer that they couldn’t resist. But that wasn't all.
When Ecclestone’s bike business outperformed Compton & Fuller’s car business, Ecclestone managed to buy a share of their business.
And then, he even cajoled Compton (one of the Compton & Fuller owners) to get into the racing business. That’s how “Compton & Ecclestone” came about (thegentlemansjournal.com).
11 Sense Of Humor
He has a ruthless sense of humor. He once praised Hitler for having the ability “to get things done.” Well, if the words “Hitler” and “praise” come in the same sentence, things generally don’t go well, but Ecclestone clarified his comment later, saying he only meant until 1938.
On top, the guy said, “Women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.”
Well, if this is what he really believes, then his unsuccessful marital life is pretty self-explanatory. His friends added that his sense of humor is like that—ruthless. But when he puts on a smile, things go much better for him; he becomes a clever salesman. “He can have people over, and they walk away very happy that they’ve been screwed” (thesun.co.uk).
10 Studied Chemistry & Physics
He did most of his schooling in low-key places and was 16 years of age when he decided to leave the West Central Secondary School to set up Erlenmeyer flasks, ring stands, clamps, and hotplates; in other words, he became an assistant in a chemical laboratory. This was after taking the matriculation exams and failing all the subjects except for mathematics at the age of 15. While he tested the purity of gas at his work, he eventually also studied chemistry and physics at a public research university, the University of Greenwich. It doesn’t seem like chemistry and physics were his passion, though, despite him being good with numbers. However, it was at the college that he became acquainted with motorbike racing, and he took things from there.
9 He Raced
While Ecclestone is the F1 emperor, he actually also raced in a limited number of races back in the days, around the early 1950s. In fact, in 1949, he raced in the 500cc Formula 3 Series. He raced mostly locally and did achieve some wins, but of course, all this isn't talked about much because the numbers of races weren't great and this wasn't his most prominent achievement. In fact, he even retired from racing at that time after getting involved in accidents at Brands Hatch, Ecclestone shifting gears toward business. Eight years later, he came back into the racing business, this time as a manager of racing drivers. That was, until he saw one of the racing drivers' engines explode and cause grave burns to the driver and, ultimately, death. He retired from racing once more.
8 Tax Avoidance
Okay, so the above was in Germany and was related to an F1 deal. But in 2008, he was also chased by the UK tax authorities.
Apparently, the Inland Revenue had been keeping an eye on his taxes for the past nine years, and it turns out, he had avoided paying about $1.7B through a valid tax-avoidance scheme.
What he did was transfer his F1 assets under his then-wife’s name, which were later moved to yet another family trust. It seems that Ecclestone wasn’t involved in the trust operation, which was legally required for him to not get into trouble. Well, he still owed about $15M in taxes, which was paid off using one of the family trusts. Of course, that wasn't much for him, as that much money is generated from the trust just from the interest every six weeks (thegaurdian.com).
7 Idea #4: Change The Racing Time
Ecclestone wanted to change the format of F1 such that it would consist of two 40-minute races on a Sunday. On top, there would be a 40-minute break between the races, where the drivers would be interviewed and cars rested and repaired, benefitting the audience, corporations, TV companies, and advertisers—essentially any party involved in the game. It’s quite impressive what Ecclestone had in mind when he laid out his reasoning for the idea. “All American sports have time-outs built in, mainly because American audiences can’t concentrate,” he said. "They grow up with everything in 15-minute segments on TV.” “People are the same everywhere now.” Saturdays would determine the grid for race one, as usual, and the outcome of the first race would decide the second race’s grid (wtf1.com).
6 Winning The FISA-FOCA War
There was this battle between the Ecclestone-formed FOCA (Formula One Constructors’ Association) and the Jean-Marie Balestre-governed FISA (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile). Balestre had an elegant lifestyle as the president—presidential suites, Rolls-Royce rides, etc.—which Ecclestone didn’t like. It wasn’t just that, though; it was the constant, inappropriate favoring of the European and bigger teams. It was a stretched-out ordeal and included a lot of incidents: Ecclestone put his personal money at stake, Balestre was held at gunpoint, various races and teams were boycotted, and on and on. However, Balestre had a weakness—his ego—which Ecclestone took full advantage of. Eventually, Ecclestone gained more control and even television rights, which significantly contributed toward his success. It was a pretty nasty, stretched-out ordeal that Ecclestone was intent on winning and actually won.
5 Idea #5: Even It Out
This idea isn't from the recent years but from the past decades. While Mercedes and Ferrari are dominating the races now, the late ‘80s were dominated by McLaren. To make things even for all the teams involved, Ecclestone suggested that the winning drivers should have mandatory pit stops. According to Ecclestone, if the racing driver won the race, he or she would be forced to make one stop at the pit in each race for the remaining year. Win two races, and that becomes two stops in each race for the remainder of the year. His idea was for the stops to be capped at three, though. Much like the sprinkler idea, this was intended to make things more interesting for viewers, as the better drivers would be forced to push their limits.
4 Sure, Just Give Me The Money
Of course, he’s a rich and influential guy, so he’s bound to have people running around to write his biography. No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone was a biography of Ecclestone written by Tom Bower, who's known to “expose” controversial figures. This one was written with the cooperation of Ecclestone, though. There’s an account of an episode in here that shows how judicious he was throughout his life. Apparently in 1979, at the Argentine Grand Prix, Colin Chapman tried to give $1K to get Mario Andretti to push Ecclestone into a swimming pool. So, Andretti walked up to Ecclestone and nervously told what had just transpired. Ecclestone said: “Pay me half, and you can.” There he goes, focusing on profits, all the time, everywhere.
3 Idea #6: Make F1 More Dramatic
Fernando Alonso had one of the most phenomenal accidents in the history of F1—phenomenal in the sense that you’re surprised to see the guy make it out without any injuries. His car rolled over so many times at such a high speed that the chances of something going wrong at any turn were likely and fatal. Yet, he jumped out of the car in good condition. Well, that might've been gut-wrenching for you and Alonso but not Ecclestone, as he suggested such an incident should be hidden and the driver taken to the hospital in an ambulance, increasing the suspense, and then eventually saying, “Okay, fans, the driver is fine.” That’s called cruelty, according to some people. Plus, he also wanted to make the sport more dangerous (wtf1.com).
2 Love Life Is Lively
At the age of 21, he married a telephone operator, Ivy Bamford. That ended in a divorce a few years later. Then, he had an affair with a lady from Singapore, Tuana Tan. And he was with her when he started dating a Croatian model, Slavica Malic in 1982 at the age of 51. Now, 51 isn’t an old age. But as soon as you read the word “model,” you kind of see where this will go. She was 23 years old in 1982. Okay, that might fly, as it happens more often than not, you say. But it gets more interesting. Not only was she young; she was also six feet and two inches tall. And Ecclestone is more than a foot shorter than she is. They divorced in 2009.
1 Economical Billionaire
In case you didn’t know, the former CEO of F1 is a billionaire; his net worth was $3.2B in September of 2017. He’s one of the richest individuals in the UK. He's a prudent billionaire, though.
He still doesn’t buy things that aren’t discounted and takes pride in that fact.
However, he didn’t just make all that happen at once; you've taken a glance at his success intermittently throughout his life from the above entries. He worked hard from the beginning and will work until the end. In fact, that may have been one of the reasons behind his divorce; Slavica grew tired of his focus on work, states thesun.co.uk. However, the divorce with Slavica was one of the highest-costing investment in his life: it cost him somewhere around $1-1.5B!
Sources: dailymail.co.uk; The Sun