Bernard Charles "Bernie" Ecclestone (born 1930) is the president of Formula One Management and owns such large percentage shares in the various organizations which keep the sport going that he is generally considered the top man in Formula One racing.
Ecclestone was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and shortly thereafter moved near London. He left school at age 16 to work at the local gasworks and pursue his hobby, motorcycles.
Immediately after the end of World War II, Ecclestone went in to business trading in spare parts for motorcycles; he formed the Compton & Ecclestone motorcycle dealership with Fred Compton. He himself entered the 500cc Formula 3000 series, driving at a very few events, but gave up in 1951 after a large accident at the Brands Hatch circuit.
He temporarily left racing to make a number of lucrative investments in real estate and loan financing, and managed the Weekend Car Auctions firm. He returned to racing in 1957 to manage Stuart Lewis-Evans and purchased the F1 Connaught team, whose drivers included Lewis-Evans, Roy Salvadori, Archie Scott-Brown, and Ivor Bueb. Ecclestone even attempted to qualify a car himself at Monaco in 1958.
He continued to manage Lewis-Evans when he moved to the Vanwall team; Salvadori moved on to manage the Cooper team. Lewis-Evans suffered severe burns when his engine exploded at the Moroccan Grand Prix and succumbed to his injuries six days later; Ecclestone was rather shaken up and once again retired from racing.
Soon enough, however, his friendship with Salvadori led to his becoming manager of driver Jochen Rindt and a partial owner of Rindt's Formula 2 team, Lotus (whose other driver was Graham Hill). Rindt, on his way to the 1970 World Championship, died in a crash at the Monza circuit, though he was awarded the championship posthumously.
In early 1972, Ecclestone purchased the Brabham team from Ron Tauranac and began his decades-long advocacy for team control of F1, forming the Formula One Constructors Association with Frank Williams, Colin Chapman, Teddy Mayer, Ken Tyrrell, and Max Mosley. Hereabouts arose the continuing question of television rights.
Ecclestone became chief executive of FOCA in 1978 with Mosley as his legal advisor; they negotiated a series of legal issues with the FIA and Jean-Marie Balestre, culminating in Ecclestone's famous coup, his securing the right for FOCA to negotiate television contracts for the grands prix. For this purpose Ecclestone established Formula One Promotions and Administrations, giving 47% of television revenues to teams, 30% to the FIA, and 23% to FOPA (i.e. Ecclestone himself; in return, FOPA put up the prize money - grand prix is French for "big prize").
Television rights shuffled between Ecclestone's companies, teams, and the FIA in the late 1990s, but Ecclestone emerged on top again in 1997; in exchange for annual payments, he would maintain the TV rights. The contract with the various teams was to last ten years, and that with the FIA fifteen years.
In 1997 he was involved in a scandal when it transpired he had given the Labour Party a million pound donation - which raised eyebrows when the Labour government changed its policy to allow Formula 1 to be continue being sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. The Labour Party returned the donation.
Despite heart surgery in 1999, Ecclestone has remained as energetic as always in promoting his own business interests. His share in the various managing firms dwindled to 25%, but he remains the owner of the largest share and thus is firmly in charge of the sport.
The Sunday Times Rich List of 2003 ranked him the 3rd richest person in the United Kingdom, with an estimated fortune of £2,400m. He fell to eighth place in 2004's Sunday Times Rich List, his fortune having decreased to only £2,343m. He recently sold his London residence to a steel magnate for $128 million, making it the most expensive house ever sold.
Ecclestone is married to Slavica Ecclestone, a Croatian and former Armani model who is 28 years his junior. They have two children, Tamara and Petra.