F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone: The ultimate survivor

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 6, 2014 at 11:15 am •  Published: August 6, 2014
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Bernie Ecclestone is a man used to getting his own way.

Whether it's running his sport with an authoritarian hand for four decades or paying his way out of a bribery trial, the 83-year-old English billionaire has spent a career cutting deals and wheeling and dealing to stay on top of the Formula One racing world.

For the past 10 months, Ecclestone has been entangled in court cases in native England and Germany that threatened — but failed — to bring him down.

The ultimate survivor, Ecclestone emerged with his image tarnished but the grip on his sport intact, for now.

In February, the High Court in London rejected a multimillion-dollar corruption claim against Ecclestone related to the sale of F1 in 2005. And on Tuesday, he took the rare and contentious step of paying a Munich court $100 million to drop a bribery case against him.

For the seemingly untouchable Ecclestone, it was business as usual.

"This now allows me to do what I do best, which is running F1," he said after the verdict was handed down Tuesday in Munich.

Ecclestone could have faced 10 years in prison if convicted of paying a $44 million bribe to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky. Ecclestone denied wrongdoing and contends that Gribkowsky, who was in charge of selling German bank BayernLB's 47 percent stake in F1 in 2005, blackmailed him.

Ecclestone is one of the shrewdest financial operators in sports, having built a powerbase in F1 since the 1970s that has allowed him to control the business operations of the racing series — now worth $1.5 billion a year — at the behest of teams and sell TV rights across the globe. He has fought regular tussles with teams over finances, but has retained control of the global racing circuit — and his personal fortune has rocketed.

According to Forbes, Ecclestone has a net worth of $4.2 billion — not bad for someone who dropped out of school at 16, is the son of a fisherman and who starting working life as a used-car salesman.

With his glasses and mop of gray hair, the diminutive Ecclestone is a regular figure in the F1 paddock and he still lives in a penthouse above his office in central London. His appetite for work is undiminished, although he said the Munich case — which dragged on for 3 1/2 years and required him to attend court for two days a week since April — has been an "aggravation."

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