Big deals, blood and billions - Bernie Ecclestone's F1 journey

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News of Liberty Media's completed takeover of Formula One has left the sport without its sole constant: Bernie Ecclestone is no longer the omnipresent force behind motor racing's premier class.

F1's ringmaster across five decades, Ecclestone has single-handedly transformed the sport from a disorganised free-for-all, enjoyed solely by motoring enthusiasts, into one of the world's biggest spectator events, with each race more star-studded than the last one on and, especially, off the track.

His influence rose and fell in almost 40 years jockeying for absolute power. We chart the astonishing life and career of 'Mr E'.

 

A FOOT IN THE DOOR

Born the son of a trawlerman in Ipswich in 1930, Ecclestone's own career behind the wheel led him to F1 for just two races in the 1958 season - he failed to qualify for the British or Monaco Grands Prix.

Having managed Stuart Lewis-Evans until his death in 1958, Ecclestone spent a decade away from the sport and had amassed a fortune when he returned to F1 as the de facto manager of Austrian racer Jochen Rindt.

Laughing off outlandish rumours that he had benefited financially from the Great Train Robbery during his time away from the sport, Ecclestone once stated: "There wasn't enough money on that train. I could have done something better than that."

Ecclestone helped negotiate Rindt's move to Lotus in 1969. The next season, Ecclestone carried Rindt's blood-stained helmet from the scene of a fatal accident during a practice session at the Italian Grand Prix.

Championship leader at the time of his death, Rindt's tally of 45 points was not surpassed and he was posthumously named world champion.

 

KNOCKING THE DOOR DOWN

Ecclestone had part-owned, with Rindt, the Lotus Formula 2 team and it was not long before he took to the lower rungs on his route to F1 domination, purchasing Brabham in 1972 for a six-figure sum.

Fifteen years, two drivers' titles for Nelson Piquet and an estimated $5million later, Ecclestone sold the team on. However, he had already struck a deal elsewhere that would put him in place to rule over F1 for generations.

Having helped its foundation four years previously, Ecclestone became president of the Formula One Constructors' Association (FOCA) in 1978 and rewrote the rule book on how F1 was marketed globally to take power away from the individual circuits and put it in the hands of the sport's protagonists, the teams.

Battling the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA), who had the backing of the sport's manufacturer teams, FOCA's band of pluckier scrappers took every opportunity to bloody the noses of F1's elite, including a boycott of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix.

The resulting Concorde Agreement, in essence, put FISA in charge of the sport's rules and FOCA, or Ecclestone, at the helm of promoting it, including control of television rights.

It was here that Ecclestone saw an opportunity to capitalise.

Positioned to negotiate an entirely new way to sell the sport globally, the Concorde Agreement's expiration in 1987 allowed Ecclestone to form an organisation that would eventually become Formula One Group - the body that remained in charge of putting the show of F1 on for the world until Liberty's takeover.

In 2000, Ecclestone paid $360m for the next 110 years of F1's commercial rights. Eight years later, F1 had revenues of $3.9billion, an average of $229m per event.

Such shrewdness made Ecclestone wealthy beyond imagination and helped the likes of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton become global superstars.

He did more than just swell the coffers. One of his first acts as FOCA boss was to hire Sid Watkins to improve safety. Once one of the world's deadliest sports, his reign coincided with F1 deaths becoming rare events, rather than viewed as an occupational hazard.

 

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE

Making a dizzying fortune from F1 came at a cost for Ecclestone, whose power over the sport waned and in recent years the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari have been able to neuter his influence.

In 2016, a deal was agreed to sell F1 for $8bn. At the age of 85, most other men would have sailed off into the sunset.

Not Bernie.

Still a presence on the grid though his days were numbered, he started to become better known for his acerbic assertions on the sport he had made a phenomenon.

"I don't get excited about cars," he said when asked if he could save one of the machines he helped take to the track.

On Mercedes' dominance of the early hybrid era: "Formula One is the worst it has ever been. I wouldn't spend my money to take my family to watch a race."

Ecclestone's sense of mischief burned into his final days at the top, as he beat F1 to the announcement of his exit as chief executive.

Frank Sinatra adorns the walls of Ecclestone's Sao Paulo ranch. He was always going to do it his way.