Bernie Ecclestone: The man who made F1 great

Date published: April 8 2021

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone is among the most famous figures in Formula 1, even though he never drove in a grand prix.

Born in the English county of Suffolk on October 28 1930, which means he has reached the grand old age of 90, Ecclestone’s only try at racing in Formula 1 himself came in 1958 when he failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix – although it was said to be “not a serious attempt”.

But it was as a team boss and subsequently the ‘ringleader’ of the sport that Ecclestone made his name, only standing down as chief executive of the Formula One Group in 2017 at the age of 86.

Instantly recognisable due to his diminutive 5ft 2ins stature, Ecclestone came from humble beginnings as the son of a fisherman, but ended up keeping the company of kings and presidents. He played a significant role in founding the Russian Grand Prix and has been pictured chatting with the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, on multiple occasions.

Brabham was Ecclestone’s team, buying them for £100,000 in 1971 and selling for a huge profit 17 years later. During that time, the team won 22 races and two Drivers’ World Championship titles through Nelson Piquet in 1981 and 1983.

Besides being a team owner, Ecclestone founded the Formula One Constructors’ Association and this launched his move into the sport’s administrative side.

He secured the rights to negotiate television contracts for grands prix by setting up Formula One Promotions and Administration, and became the driving force behind taking Formula 1 to different global territories such as Russia, China, the Middle East and India.

When the Formula One Group was taken over by Liberty Media in early 2017, Ecclestone was displaced as chief executive but has remained a prominent personality who still attends races when circumstances allow.

Bernie Ecclestone wife and family

A 90-year-old at the hub of Formula 1 for six decades is bound to have had a colourful life and that is certainly true of Ecclestone, who has been married three times.

He was divorced from his first wife, Ivy, and after a 17-year relationship with Tuana Tan, from Singapore, he married Croatian model Slavica Radic, whom he had met while she was working at a promotional event during the 1982 Italian Grand Prix.

Slavica is 28 years Ecclestone’s junior and after marrying in 1985, they divorced in 2009.

However, the age gap was nothing compared to that between Ecclestone and his third wife, Fabiana Flosi, with 46 years between the couple. Fabiana, who was the vice-president of marketing for the Brazilian Grand Prix, was 35 at the time of their engagement in April 2012.

In July 2020, Fabiana gave birth to Ecclestone’s fourth child and first son, Alexander Charles (abbreviated to Ace).

He had the eldest of his three daughters, Deborah, with first wife Ivy. Through Deborah, he became a great-grandfather.

Ecclestone’s two daughters with Slavica, Tamara and Petra, have much more public profiles.

Tamara, who was born in Milan in 1986, has been an F1 presenter in Italy, appeared in reality TV programmes and also posed for Playboy. She was also the victim of a widely-reported burglary at her London home in December 2019.

Petra, who was born in London in 1988, has been a successful fashion designer and, a mother of three including twin boys, she is the former owner of the largest house in Los Angeles County which she reportedly sold for just under $120million in 2019.

Bernie Ecclestone net worth

According to Forbes, Ecclestone and his family were 891st in the world’s rich list for 2021 with a wealth of $3.4billion.

However, that was a significant drop on the list from a 2020 peak of 648th, even though Ecclestone’s net worth is only ‘slightly’ below a high of $3.5billion in 2018.

Ecclestone built up Formula 1 into a sport which was the subject of an $8billion takeover by Liberty Media, although he had sold most of his stake in the late 1990s so that he held only a 25% share – nevertheless retaining control despite his minority holding.

But while he clearly derived huge personal financial benefit from Formula 1, Ecclestone also made the sport much stronger as he drove up the value of grands prix and the associated race fees.

This reached a point where F1 could negotiate a season’s schedule on its own terms and hand-pick venues which were the most economically lucrative from a marketing and growth perspective.

In residential terms, Ecclestone is reported to spend most of his time in Gstaad, Switzerland at his £23million four-storey ski chalet, and has a global property empire as well as a private jet and a yacht named ‘Petara’ after two of his daughters.

Other business interests include a coffee plantation in Brazil which is managed by his wife Fabiana, a four-star hotel in Gstaad and even a glacier in the Swiss Alps which is being developed into a ski resort.

A life in F1 for Bernie Ecclestone

Like many F1 personalities, motorcycles came before cars for Ecclestone. He raced the two-wheeled machines and developed business interests before eventually getting into F1 as a driver manager – his first big-name client was Jochen Rindt, the posthumous 1970 World Champion.

From there, he bought the Brabham team and the big breakthrough came with the promotion of Gordon Murray to chief designer in 1973. That sparked an improvement in results as Carlos Reutemann won three grands prix the following season and, in 1975, Brabham finished second in the constructors’ World Championship.

After an up-and-down few years, Ecclestone’s team hit new heights in the early 1980s as Nelson Piquet became World Champion twice, but Brabham began a decline after the Brazilian driver left at the end of 1985 to join Williams.

Ecclestone sold Brabham in 1988, by which time he was well and truly immersed in the sport’s governance. Along with F1’s chief medic, Sid Watkins, he played a part in improving safety measures, not least after the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.

Despite undergoing heart surgery and a triple coronary bypass in 1999, Ecclestone remained at the forefront of the sport for nearly two more decades.

His time in charge was eventful and controversial until his exit at the start of 2017, replaced by Chase Carey, although he was given the title of ‘Chairman Emeritus’ of the Formula One Group – an honorary title which expired in 2020 at the end of his pre-existing contract.

Bernie Ecclestone quotes

Bernie Ecclestone has never been one to mince his words, nor adhere to political correctness. Here is a selection of his famous, amusing and controversial quotes.

“Pay me half and you can” – Ecclestone to Mario Andretti at the 1979 Argentine Grand Prix. Andretti, reigning World Champion at the time, had been offered $1,000 by Lotus boss Colin Chapman to push Ecclestone into a swimming pool and nervously confessed the plot to Bernie.

“I would rather race than strut red carpets in Hollywood” – In a joint interview with Nico Rosberg in 2015.

“I’m happy we have someone like Lewis [Hamilton]. I couldn’t be like Lewis. I don’t like gold jewellery” – From the same joint interview with Rosberg.

“If I took away Silverstone and the British Grand Prix, I’d be seen as a bad guy – but that wouldn’t bother me” – In 2004, regarding the renewal of the British Grand Prix’s contract.

“A benevolent dictator? I don’t mind the dictator bit, but the benevolent I’m not so sure” – During an interview with Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz.

“I hate it when people say they’re going to do something and then don’t. I don’t bother [with them] again” – In an interview with GQ Magazine in 2021.

“We used to run a five-star restaurant. They want to run a Kentucky Fried Chicken” – In a 2017 Financial Times interview regarding Liberty Media targeting F1 at a younger audience.

“Honestly, I think the guy who should be running Europe, impressed me more than anything, is Mr Putin because he’s a guy that says he’s going to do something and does it … [he’s] a first-class person” – From the same Financial Times interview.

“I’m enjoying being a dad again. It’s good to wake up and see what the little devil has been up to. It’s keeping me young at heart, anyway.” – In a 2021 interview with the Daily Telegraph about becoming a father again at the age of 89.

“I think if you said to me who I think has been the greatest driver, I’d say Alain Prost” – From a Top Gear interview with Eddie Jordan in 2016.