on 13 March 2011
No Angel is a riveting read and goes a long way toward unravelling the complex network of companies and trusts that, over the years, have established control of the immensely profitable business of Formula One.
It does not, however, reveal anything that was not already known or suspected although it certainly underlines the power that Ecclestone continues to wield, as well as his obsessively secretive and manipulative nature and the fact that that he seems able to operate highly successfully in international financial circles using exactly the same crude techniques that he learnt as a second-hand car dealer in Warren Street in the 1950s.
I wish that the publisher had employed an editor with some basic knowledge of motor racing parlance. The book will, presumably, be read mainly by those with an interest in F1 and many of the expressions used, whilst not actually wrong, are not ones that would be used by those with even a passing knowledge of the sport. There are also several glaring factual errors which any competent editor or proof-reader should have picked up.
Worth reading if you have an interest in Formula One but probably a little boring for those who don't.
on 11 May 2011
Bernie Ecclestone would surely be a very tough subject for any biographer, such is his apparent way of doing business. He plays his cards very close and seems prone to statements which, while appearing correct in fact, are less than the whole story in context or substance. Bower possibly relied excessively on explanations from Bernie regarding certain technicalities, events and the timing of events in the past and, as noted by other reviewers, this has resulted in not a few errors appearing from time to time. Having been a very close follower of motorsport for many years, while seeing these errors is slightly irritating at worst, I don't feel that any or all of them had the effect of detracting from the complex core subject at all i.e. Bernie, his 'ownership' of F1 and how he built his apparent one-man empire in a sea of greedy, highly political and disloyal sharks.
The book built a picture of Ecclestone's character in a consistent context and provided a far more in-depth understanding than I had before reading it of who he is, how he operates, how he built his power and influence in F1, and how he has been able to sustain it in the face of ever-changing threats over the years. Bower very cleverly drew on lots of input from friends, allies and adversaries of Ecclestone and this made the journey through the book much more 'alive' than I expected it to be. It was at all times captivating, sometimes very amusing (not least in reading about the behaviours of some very image-conscious and self-important players in F1,) at times nauseating, cringeworthy and even sad and - by the end - I felt that I had read a story of admirable substance.
Were it not for the factual errors, I would easily have given it 5 stars. It definitely deserves a solid 4.9 at least - the most substantial of the two Ecclestone biographies I have read ... by far. Highly recommended.
on 10 March 2011
I was really looking forward to this book, but sadly its sloppy approach to fact checking left me disappointed and feeling I couldn't trust what I was reading.
In the notes section, author Tom Bower says he had Ecclestone's cooperation and spend a lot of time with the F1 boss.
He says that led to many of those close to Ecclestone also granting interviews.
In the weeks before it was published Ecclestone withdrew is support, saying that Bower had broken the terms of their arrangement by writing about his stormy relationship with ex-wife Slavica.
This spat essentially made the book unauthorised which made me want to read it even more.
Bower does a competent enough job of telling the story of Ecclestone's early life as used car dealer who goes on to build up one of the most lucrative sports in the world.
It's when we get into the 80s/90s/00s that the really juicy tales start to emerge.
Sadly this book is seriously let down by its numerous mistakes.
There are plenty of typos.
Time after time prominent figures in Formula One have their names mis-spelt. (Theussen instead of Thiessen, Permayne instead of Permane. The list goes on...)
But the worst problem is the lack of factual accuracy. There are dozens of real howlers that would jump off the page to most serious F1 followers.
For instance, several times he talks about the Toyota F1 team having never reached the podium. Untrue. He gets the date of Senna's infamous deliberate collision with Prost at Suzuka wrong by two years. He writes about the first Grand Prix in Melbourne being in 1995 (it was a year later).
There really are too many mistakes to list( though half way through I was tempted to start and send them to this book's publisher!)
Perhaps even worse is Bower inability to describe the technical aspects of Formula One.
His attempts to articulate concepts like ground effect, active suspension and blown diffusers aren't just inept, they're plain inaccurate.
Surely the author should have engaged the help of a specialist motorsport writer to at the very least read the manuscript before it went to print. Bower could ahve easily saved himself plenty of embarrassment.
The number of inaccuracies also reflects extremely poorly on the publisher.
There are some really interesting stories from Ecclestone in this book.
But Tom Bower's apparent lack of even the most basic fact checking ability makes me question much in this book.
A real wasted opportunity.
on 23 March 2011
Look, Ecclestone doesn't make it easy for biographers. He's spent years encouraging various legends about his past to circulate, effectively setting traps for later writers. He tried to buy Terry Lovell's 2004 biography 'Bernie's Game', and certainly got his fingers into its contents. He put Susan Watkins biography 'Bernie' on hold for five years or so before finally allowing it to be released just in time to steal 'No Angel's thunder. Even so, surely Bower could have done a better job than this?
Yes, this rapidly knocked together book is a broadly accurate picture of Ecclestone's life. And that's not really surprising, because despite what the book's cover would have you believe, pretty much everything here has been covered before in the three previous biographies, two team histories of Brabham, various other books on Formula One and many magazine and newspaper articles. Bower's strongest influence is Terry Lovell's 2008 King of Sport (extensively cited in the notes section), and his book follows pretty much the same story from Ecclestone's birth in 1930 through to the present day. Bower had access to slightly different selection of interviewees, but this has added little to earlier accounts.
The biggest problem for me was Bower has no feel whatsoever for motor racing, and plainly didn't go to the trouble of employing a researcher or proofreader who did. If you know the sport, you'll read some sections of the book with a furrowed brow as you try and translate Bower's idiosyncratic terminology. Then there are the widely-reported errors. The book is littered with motorsport howlers: Reutemann as world champion, Brabham winning three championships with his own team, etc etc. All books have mistakes, but this is on a different scale altogether: I'm averaging an obviously inaccurate statement every few pages.
Ignore all descriptions of racing or technology in the book. They're wrong. All of them. As an illustrative example only, Bower seems to think the 1978 Brabham fan car was some kind of hovercraft. And the (untrue) story that Lauda had no idea how that car worked but was just told to "Push the accelerator down when you see the others in trouble" is priceless. Kinda like Wacky Races. The two pages (94 & 95) describing the fan car may be the most error-strewn in the book. I counted nine flatly incorrect statements, plus another four that are just misleading or only technically inaccurate.
In a way, this shouldn't be a problem. The book is mainly trying to tell the story of how Ecclestone rose to his current position and wealth, not give a history of Formula One, but the number and scale of some of the errors will make the book very hard to read for anyone familiar with Formula One. For those not especially interested in F1 itself, the inaccuracies are still a problem because Bower uses the framework of racing events to build his narrative and when dates are out by years, or individuals are accused of actions that they cannot possibly have taken, it undermines his case.
On top of this, the writing is poor. It rambles and has more than its fair share of grammatical errors. Bower seems completely blind to the subject of a sentence, for example. There are brief passages that are all but incomprehensible because of this. I suppose you could best describe the writing style as Jeffrey Archer: it more or less gets the job done, but you might want to wash your eyeballs afterwards.
Frankly, the book is hack-work. If you want to learn about Bernie, buy Watkins' and/or Lovell's biographies. In broad terms, they tell the same story, but despite having their own faults, both are better researched and written than this one. 'Bernie' is probably a better account of Ecclestone the man, but carries an obvious (and declared) bias as Watkins is a friend; 'King of Sport' is generally anti- rather than pro- Ecclestone and gives a lot of apparently well-researched material on his financial dealings, but can get a bit bogged down in the details.
on 26 August 2015
Having followed Formula 1 for over 30 years, I was always intrigued by exactly how Bernie Ecclestone achieved his dominance of the sport, becoming a billionaire in the process. Frequently described as the 'ringmaster', what is his official role, what powers does he have, and did he come by them honestly?
Written by respected journalist Tom Bower, mostly with the cooperation of its subject, this book provides at least some of the answers. It is essentially a chronology, going right back to Ecclestone’s wartime childhood in south east London, and continuing up to 2011. It thus covers his journey from dodgy mileage-fixing South London used car dealer and occasional racer, to F1 team boss, and eventually private jet-owning billionaire, mixing with heads of state, captains of industry, and Hollywood stars, and seeing off all attempts to dislodge him over multiple decades.
The narrative is mostly entertaining and informative, although I found myself glazing at the sheer amount of detail, particularly around the various financial transactions. Ecclestone’s tactics of rummaging through the waste basket after meetings, of inserting killer clauses into contracts then keeping the only copies, encouraging and exploiting divisions between F1 team owners, and of general secrecy and half-truths, are more interesting than the actual numbers.
There are fascinating insights into various episodes, including Ecclestone’s alleged involvement in the Great Train Robbery (exposed as a myth that Ecclestone seemed happy to foster, as it added to his mystique); his infamous £1M donation to Tony Blair’s Labour party in an effort to neutralise plans for a ban on tobacco advertising; the ‘spygate’ affair, which ended up with his nemesis Ron Dennis and his McLaren team being fined a barely-credibly $100M for using technical secrets obtained from a disgruntled Ferrari employee; various examples of driver misbehaviour, including Schumacher deliberately taking out both Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve; and his recent run-in with the courts (which he somehow survived, albeit at a cost of $100M) over his alleged bribery of the banker Gerhard Gribkowsky during the sale of his stake in F1 to the private equity firm CVC partners.
Frankly very few of the main characters emerge with much credit as human beings. Max Mosley, Ron Dennis, Jean-Marie Balestre, Enzo Ferrari, Colin Chapman, Luca de Montezemelo, Flavio Briatore, Michael Schumacher, and especially Ecclestone himself, all come across as deeply unlikeable and, in various combinations, ruthless, duplicitous, petulant, self-important, confrontational, greedy, immoral, and frequently dishonest. A few, such as Damon Hill and Nikki Lauda, emerge as reasonably honourable, but they are in the minority. The description of Monaco as ‘a sunny place full of shady people’ was never more apt.
It would be too simplistic to attribute Ecclestone’s extraordinary drive to a Napoleonic small-man complex, or a street urchin’s contempt for the privileged blazer-wearing types at the FIA and the BDRC, and the author admits that the man remains an enigma. Certainly ‘No Angel’ per the title, and willing to bend or break any rule in the pursuit of his goals, but utterly convinced of being the best man for the job, even in his mid-eighties. We will never see his like again.
As a book, there is little here for the casual observer, but anyone with more than a passing interest in motor racing will find plenty to entertain and inform.
on 21 April 2011
I've been a Formula 1 fan since 1976, so this was a must-read book. I've also read previous Tom Bower books and highly rate him.
Thankfully the first chapter was short. It would have been even better if it was none-existant! It was boring, had glaring inaccuracies and did not contain any facts. It did not set the tone for the rest of the book.
Bower's skill's are as an investigative author who can create a stimulating and detailed read. He does not dissappoint, but it took me beyond halfway through the book before I forgave that dreadful first chapter.
Yes, there are inaccuracies around the F1 world, but I'm actually not too worried about them. If Bower was an F1 fan it would not be an unbiased production. In the world of F1 politics, that's undisputed. And boy, does he dig up the facts? I was always an Ecclestone admirer; now I feel I've been conned. Mysteries of the past (including the Lotus 88) have been unearthed with politics and cheating, incredibly, appearing to be an even greater influence on the sport than previously appeared.
Not comfortable reading, but very important nontheless.
on 17 March 2011
This book is a shocker !! I suspect Mr Bower doesn't have the faintest idea what actually happens in F1. This book has so many factual errors it becomes quite amusing to keep score. Events happen before things were even made, people who weren't even at certain races influenced the outcome, drivers that we didn't realise were world champions (Carlos Reutemann), overall a complete waste of paper. Probably the worst aspect of this book, is that there is a fascinating story to be told, but his isn't it. Save your money, if you have something better to do that just throw it away, buy the "Bernie" book, it's more factual, not the whole story sadly, but at least what is says is generally correct.
on 24 June 2013
I found this book a bit of an eye-opener. I never knew just how dishonest F1 and its main players where/are! It does get a bit difficult to read, with all the abbreviations and business shenanigins that are more tangled than a bowl of spaghetti, but if you can thread your way through you realise just what an amazing brain Bernie must have! I think he probably suffers from some weird form of OCD. Although I would never trust him, I can't help but admire him. I always thought of him as a bit of a joker but he's no fool!
on 12 December 2011
Bernie Ecclestone - he has control of a global motorsport, but plays his cards very close to his chest. For me, the most interesting part of this book was how Ecclestone built himself up from London car-dealer to F1 supremo. Bower is forced to rely on much of Ecclestone's own testimony here, but he doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Ecclestone's ruthlessness - and I get the impression that Ecclestone would be happy to see himself described in such a way since having a ruthless reputation was part of his bargaining style. Ecclestone took and kept control of F1 through 'divide and conquer', constantly pitching rivals and colleagues against each other. He was also careful to ensure that he kept a large portion of every deal he brokered for himself. There are more sources for dealings over the last decade or so, but I began to tire of the constant back-stabbing and manoeuvring of Ecclestone, Max Mosley, Ron Dennis and Luca Montezemolo. Ecclestone comes across as an interesting character, a dealer who relied on his own wits to reach the top - but not one you can trust, and who would ditch anybody if it got him a better profit.
on 11 November 2013
As with all books of autobiographical nature it is impossible for an outsider to tell what is fact and what is fiction. In any case I can confirm that this is a very enjoyable read and everyone knows without questioning that Bernie Ecclestone is the dominant figure in F1.
It is the story of a young boy who grew up in humble homes but made it thanks to his outstanding entrepreneurial spirit. His first endeavour was setting up a successful second hand car business before acquiring a Formula One team. Throughout the book the reader is given plenty of examples showing his cleverness in seizing opportunities and to outsmart competitors, also by creating his own version of truth to say the least.
The book gives also great insights into the world of the rich and might and how they play their "games of thrones" up to government level in general and the Blair era in particular.
I can recommend this book to everyone with the slightest interest in Formula One but also to people who seek some advice how to play games further up in the food chain.