The CAR Top 10: pillars of the Bernie Ecclestone legend

Published: 13 March 2015

Bernie vs the German legal system. Only one winner

Seems like every time F1’s puppetmaster opens his mouth his infamy increases. Truth or myth, Bernie Ecclestone's a walking headline. Here's why.

1) He compared Danica Patrick to a washing machine

Danica PatrickCommenting on Danica’s fourth place at the Indy 500, Ecclestone said he would prefer women to be dressed in white, like domestic appliances. Contrite, he called Patrick… and said it over again. Thank god he saved the one about the Hoover. 

2) He said Hitler got stuff done

Another man who got things doneBernie Ecclestone runs F1, not Fawlty Towers, but 2009 made you wonder: on the eve of the Nürburgring GP, the Andy Warhol lookalike described Hitler as a bloke who got stuff done. BMW were so impressed they instantly quit.

3) He battled Balestre 

Jean-Marie Balestre (left) and a younger Bernie, in battleLong before he was upsetting Germans, Bernie took on controversial Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre, head of F1’s governing body, FISA. Balestre won battles with everyone from Senna to Todt, but Bernie beat him in 1982, pushing through the Concorde Agreement that gave teams control over F1’s commercial rights.

4) He was too slow to race

The 1958 Monaco grand prix: Ecclestone didn't qualifyDespite being 83, Ecclestone shows no signs of slowing down. Back in 1958, he showed no signs of speeding up when he failed to qualify for the Monaco GP. But as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat ’em, buy a majority stake in the sport and control the bloody lot of ’em.

5) His mugged mug was a star

Bernie was mugged; watch maker Hublot leapt on the chance

Most people feel mugged after negotiations with Bernie, but in 2010 it was his turn, when he was robbed of his Hublot watch. Ecclestone and Hublot agreed his bruised face would make the perfect ad. ‘See what people will do for a Hublot,’ it quipped. ‘Only psychos punch you for a Seiko,’ was the year’s great lost ad opportunity. 

6) He proved you can buy innocence

Bernie in court in Germany

Only the most bizarre justice system accepts payments to overturn bribery accusations. Bernie found one, in Germany. Accused of slipping Gerhard Gribkowsky a brown envelope stuffed with £26m to get rid of BayernLB’s stake in F1, Ecclestone sent his lawyer out for a second, bigger envelope, then walked free.

7) He got Blair to do a U-turn

Smoking adverts and F1: a healthy relationship?

In the late ’90s, Tony Blair wanted to ban tobacco advertising because it helped kill people. Never mind that long-term stuff, argued Bernie, fags financed F1, and therefore stopped British families being homeless. A £1m donation to Labour helped.

8) He played a part in the McLaren F1 story

Bernie and Ron: a small part in the McLaren F1 supercar story

Gordon Murray was already working at Brabham when Ecclestone took over the team in 1971. But Bernie hired Peter Stevens, initially to do the Parmalat graphics, and unwittingly created the team that would go on to build the McLaren F1 road car. Bernie failed to fix himself a cut of F1 profits.

9) He didn’t plot the Great Train Robbery

Did he or didn't he? The myth of Bernie suggests he might have been involved in the Great Train Robbery

Ecclestone claims his huge cash mountain comes from property; tittle-tattle suggested it came from the Great Train Robbery via getaway/racing driver Roy James. Bernie described the accusations as nonsense: ‘Why would I rob a train with only £1m on it? That’s not even enough to pay one driver.’

10) He held Silverstone to ransom

The British Grand Prix: held to ransom by one B.Ecclestone Esq

It’s the oldest circuit in F1, and Bernie’s a Brit, but there’s barely room in his 5ft 2in frame for a normal pair of legs, let alone sentimentality. Offering to extend Silverstone’s contract only after Donington messed up, Ecclestone threatened: ‘Maybe they have lost their pen but if they don’t find it in the next day or two then there will be no British GP.’ Luckily Damon Hill found a Biro. 

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator