Wednesday, 18 May 2016 09:00

Bernie Ecclestone, the driver

Written by

Translated by Giannis Binas

His name is synonymous with the nature of Formula 1 itself… and how couldn’t it be after all?


For 5 decades, Bernie Ecclestone is pulling the strings of the pinnacle of motorsport, ‘cutting and sewing’ the sport’s ‘suit’.

But how many of you know that the mighty manager once tried to experience a grand prix from the driver’s position?

Few if not very few and judging by the result, there is a reason.
In the beginning of the 50s, the cunning lad Bernard Charles Ecclestone, declared that he was, besides a motorcycle salesman, a racing driver.

The ‘bug’ for speed initially appeared on 2 wheels, soon enough though he jumped on 4, participating in races with 500cc single-seaters – a forerunner sport to Formula 3. The hopeful Brit was soon a familiar figure in Great Britain’s circuits, especially in Brands Hatch, a circuit very near his business centre.

Bernie Cooper F3 1952

Behind the wheel of a ‘modest’ Cooper Mk V, he occasionally had notable appearances but an accident at Brands Hatch in 1953, gradually turned him away from racing; he only made some rare appearances until his final withdrawal in 1956.
The racing ‘bug’ didn’t disappear of course, but was to be combined with the business one in order to bring to him what arisen as a sole purpose of his life: profit.

In 1957 he reached a talented compatriot, Stuart Lewis-Evans, who was also an old co athlete from junior categories, then driver for Connaught in Formula 1 that season, and assumed his representation.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of Connaught’s difficult financial status, he bought 2 of its single-seaters in low price and declared his presence as a private entry in the non-championship race of New Zealand in the beginning of 1958.

Lewis-Evans and Connaught’s other driver, Roy Salvadori found themselves in the cockpits, the results were poor though and Ecclestone’s goal of reselling the cars after the race proved fruitless.

Bernie Monaco 1958 1

The goal of reselling, or even better, getting-rid-of the 2 obsolete single-seaters drove Ecclestone into bringing them to various, championship or non-championship, races.

At Monaco, in 1958, clearly displeased by the zero interest for their buyout, he decided to see with his own eyes what exactly happened.

Thus, he found himself behind the steering wheel of one of the cars and was registered as a driver.

To be precise, we can say he unsuccessfully tried to qualify for the race.

Based on his lap time however, we could say he had a quiet stroll around the Principality’s streets.

He registered as back-up driver at the home race too, in Silverstone, but here the stroll was deemed unnecessary and didn’t take place.

That way, the ‘racing driver’ chapter ended once and forever.

Bernie Monaco 1958 2

In the end of 1958, Ecclestone’s dealing with racing, in any kind, appeared to reach a definitive end.

The reason for him to leave the paddocks was the death of his client and friend, Stuart Lewis-Evans.

A few years later, through Salvadori, he was friendly connected with the particularly talented Jochen Rindt, assuming yet another time the duties of a manager. And while he saw a friend perish for a second time (at Monza’s qualifying in 1970), this time he didn’t look back: in 1972, he bought Brabham and made sure to indelibly connect his name with the course Formula 1 followed.

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