Top positive review
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Fascinating, penetrating and unsettling
on 2 July 2003
Terry Lovell isn't a racing expert - he's an investigative journalist, which makes him ideally qualified to write this biography of Bernie Ecclestone. Most of what Ecclestone has done has little to do with racing - Bernie's world is all about money, power, deals, and intrigue. Racing just happens to be something Bernie enjoys and has built his fortune around.
The first half of the book is a relatively conventional biography of Ecclestone - his childhood, how he made his first couple of fortunes, his ownership of the Brabham F1 team and his eventual rise to power within FOCA, the body that represents the constructors. The FISA-FOCA "war" that threatened to tear F1 apart in the early 80s is described in detail. This half of the book is rich in anecdotes, quotes and incidents, and is great fun.
The second half of the book looks at the last 15 years or so and more particularly how Bernie has gradually taken control of almost all the commercial aspects of F1 - TV, race promotion, etc - and how he went from millionaire to billionaire. The politics and deals are bigger, but the writing is a bit flatter when the story heads away from the circuits.
I'll admit that big business isn't something I spend a lot of time reading about, and that racing is, so I found the first half of the book considerably more enjoyable than the second - but the depth of research Lovell has put into the book, and the insight he's achieved into the often rather murky political/financial dealings behind F1 are very obvious and the many conflicting threads of control are clearly explained.
There isn't a great deal of insight into Ecclestone the man - some comment from his friends from his early years and acquaintances in the racing game; a few pages near the end about his life now; but really very little you couldn't already work out - Ecclestone is portrayed as fastidious, intensely private, sarcastic, quick-witted, addicted to deals, still essentially the working-class boy made good and not someone easily impressed.
All in all, this is a comprehensive and generally highly readable profile of how Ecclestone made Formula 1 the sport it is today. There are a lot of surprising revelations (particularly in the first half of the book), though few startling ones for anyone who pays moderately close attention to what the city pages have to say about racing.
Recommended to racing fans who want to know how the sport's ended up the way it is or to people interested in the interactions between sport and business.