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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.
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on 19 August 2016
Initially I must declare my position in that I resent bitterly what Ecclestone and Mosely have done to the sport I have loved since as a very small boy I followed the exploits of Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss. That said I have tried to be objective about this book but find little to commend either it or its subject.The text is clumsy and often I found myself having to backtrack to confirm which voice we were in. Also given the prolific output and the tendency of the author to sensationalise grave doubts are raised as to the accuracy and objectivity of the research. In his final notes the author says he has tried to avoid "lengthy notes" which actually is just a lazy avoidance of rigorous cross referencing which surely devalues the work in terms of academic rigour. In fact it is far from academic as the vast majority of the work is based on others' personal views and memories and it is hard to discern any attempt at solid corroboration of the facts. Perhaps the largest flaw for me is the author's poor grasp of the minutia of F1, for instance he refers to Red Bulls' exhaust blown diffuser as "floor wings"!
It is often said that Eccleston saved Formula 1 which I find an entirely contentious statement since Grand Prix/F1 racing had had its problems prior to Ecclestone and had survived. The reason is straight forward since such racing is popular and where there is a demand it will always be filled. Ecclestone did not save F1, he did not even act in any altruistic sense, seeing an opportunity to line his own pockets he took it by stealth and cunning.
Mr Eccleston often claims to be a benevolent dictator but creaming off profits to himself which should in all justification have gone to the teams is not benevolence it is more like larceny. He then moans about their lack of gratitude for being ripped off, claiming he had made them rich. Even if we accept this claim at face value, for it ignores the success many of them had in producing highly complex racing teams and machinery, he in fact made himself even richer at their expense.
A cunning and manipulative man he needed accomplices to achieve his despicable successes and he found them readily in Max Mosely, cunning and vindictive; in Flavio Briatore, dissolute and amoral; and in Eddy Jordan, famously described by Ron Dennis, using a certain hyperbole, as the "village idiot" - and those of us witnessing his television performances may conclude that it is not too much of a stretch. Given his progenitors it is easy to see that Mosely would find the concept of moral behaviour difficult, but if this book is anything to go by it is totally alien to Ecclestone. The author quoting Richard Williams in the Guardian cites they "will leave behind a sport stripped of its integrity, its old values replaced by a superficial prosperity that can no longer conceal a putrescent core" If you love F1 don't read this book for you, as for me, it is a depressing and dispiriting read.
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on 14 December 2014
Fallen Angel
You have to start from the premise that Bower is no motorsport expert and there are lots of typos relating to the names of significant motorsport persons. Secondly Ecclestone is not the best autobiography subject to provide the core of this book, so expect inaccuracies and extrapolation to the extreme. However it does give an insight. From dodgy car dealer (renowned for "clocking" his vehicles,) through motor sport entrant and Brabham team owner. Move on to the complex structure of his F1 operation and you need to concentrate. His battles with both banks and FOCA are intense. His relationship with Slavica appears turbulent to say the least and Bower's reporting of this led to Ecclestone withdrawing his endorsement for the book. It takes hours to read but its worth the effort. In terms of wealth , Bernie is like a kid in a sweet shop. he can never have enough money and has an insatiable appetite for business.
An extraordinary man who has seemingly led a very adversorial business life and thrived upon it.
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on 16 May 2014
This is a great book for anyone who like me is an anorak over F1.
It gives a full history on Bernie, how he started up and his wheeling and dealing that led him to the position of power and extreme wealth that he has now.
Its all down I think to the fact that he had the vision of what F1 as a brand could become and all the teams around him were so caught up with the bickering within teams that they took theirs eyes off the ball and took the easy option of letting Bernie deal with it, and good for him!
I can well understand that Bernie doesn't authorise the book as the title suggests it doesn't paint him in the best light sometimes, but then to get to where he is you have to be ruthless. Bernie has certainly broken a few eggs to make his omelette!
F1 Fans pull the anorak on and get reading on what its all been about for the past decades, you will love it!
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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.
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on 6 April 2018
I could not put this book down, you have to admire Bernie, how he sold the TV rights he acquired, the deals, the intrigue, He is probably the best deal maker anywhere.He is a genius.
Some of the deals went above my understanding on business, the sums of money involved are incredible The book is full of very interesting detail.
There will never be another Bernie.
I bought the hardback book as I want to keep this book , have read it twice now and will read it again.
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on 16 August 2017
This book will please Formula1 anoraks for the endless and sometimes mind numbing detail of Mr Ecclestone's latter involvement with F1, but the early years of his life and subsequent domination of F1 are the most interesting. After those early years I found the book to be tedious. Once Mr Eccclestone is established as a ruthless and rather sad man, it all gets a bit boring.
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on 22 March 2018
Told in Bower's usual breezy nosey style, what is really revealling about this book is how little dirt there seem to be to dig up on motor sports all time mister big. Benefits by being written by someone more interested in people than racing. Essential reading for serious F1 afficianados.
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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!
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on 8 January 2014
If you are a formula one fanatic you'll find this book fascinating. For the rest of us it's a good professional job by a writer who has done his homework. To my surprise, I read it in a mere two or three sittings. I'm tempted to claim that it 'told me more about Mr Ecclestone than I wanted to know', but in fact it didn't. On the other hand, I don't actually want to know any more about him, so I guess the writer judged it about right,
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