Racer, team boss and owner
Bernie Ecclestone, who turned 93 in 2023, is one of the older legends who occasionally appears in the Formula 1 paddock. Nowadays, he may no longer be the owner of the premier class, but Bernie did not start out as the big boss of the sport in the past.
In 1958, the Brit appeared on the grid as a driver after having driven in Formula 3 earlier in that decade. In the same year, Ecclestone managed the career of driver Stuart Lewis-Evans before he died following a racing incident. Years later, Ecclestone returned to the role of manager, this time of Jochen Rindt. The German-born also died not long after Ecclestone took over management, after which Bernie appeared on the F1 grid as co-owner of Brabham.
Initially, Ecclestone ended up working alongside Ron Taurnac in exchange for his investment, but the personalities of the two alpha males regularly clashed. In 1972, Taurnac left, and Ecclestone remained the sole boss of a team with poor results. In 1973, 1974, and 1975, Brabham managed to compete at the top of the field before a decision to join forces with Alfa Romeo to supply engines threw a spanner in the works: the results were poor. It was not until 1978 that the team succeeded again with Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda.
'Not enough money for my efforts' was how Piquet's departure was described by the Brazilian himself at the end of 1985. Bernie Ecclestone would not be willing to put extra money on the table for the driver who won the title with Brabham in 1981 and 1983, after which Piquet left. Three years later, Ecclestone sold his team for just under five million dollars: sixteen years earlier, the Brit had only paid a grand for it.
'Final boss' of Formula 1
In addition to running Brabham, Ecclestone managed FOCA: the Formula One Constructors' Association. Diametrically opposed to the equivalent of the current FIA, the group, which included several teams, demanded a fairer distribution of money and compliance with rules. The bomb exploded after the teams affiliated with the FOCA did not show up at two drivers briefings, after which the FIA demanded compensation be paid. If this did not happen, the racing license of those teams would be confiscated. Only after the King of Spain (since the bomb exploded during the race weekend in Spain) demanded that his GP would continue did 'normal' driving take place.
With the introduction of the Concorde Agreement, FOCA (and thus Bernie Ecclestone) finally got their way: the distribution of the money would be fairer, and rule changes would also be communicated in a timely manner to give teams enough time to make adjustments. The FOCA would also have the right to conclude contracts with TV providers, and the prize money would also be paid from that income.
Criticism and eventual takeover by Liberty Media
A circuit paying significant money to host a GP is nothing new, but it becomes a big problem when an iconic race runs into financial trouble. This already happened to the British GP at Silverstone, after which Ecclestone had to endure a lot: the Briton earned a large part of the income despite being a billionaire. Not only would that money not be used to pump back into Formula 1, but Ecclestone also kept a nonchalant accounting for paying taxes. In 2008, the Brit paid around ten million pounds to the British tax authorities after an investigation was launched into his accounting and possible tax evasion.
At the beginning of January 2017, it was announced that Ecclestone would no longer be at the helm of Formula 1 after the American company Liberty Media took over Ecclestone's entire organisation for billions of dollars. Bernie said he was 'pushed out', after which Chase Carey took the Brit's position.
Since then, Ecclestone has regularly appeared in Formula 1, more often than not, critical of the current state of affairs.