Daily Telegraph

BERNIE ECCLESTONE is that rare breed: an Englishman who is probably the most powerful sports entrepreneur in the world – he can open doors to top politicians and businessmen around the world that no one other Englishman can – yet he sounds and acts like a little Englander who makes few concessions to foreigners.

So while he is always travelling round the world, he cannot imagine living anywhere else but England – home is in Chelsea – and for all his international clout he does not speak any other language.

He defiantly says: “I have no languages. I hide behind the fact that anyone worth dealing with speaks English, which is an excuse for not speaking foreign languages.”

And in his business dealings his principles are still the ones he learnt in his youth as a used-car salesman in south London.

As he puts it: “My used-car dealer background has helped me considerably. I cut out the rubbish and get down to the facts. I never go into a negotiation with fixed ideas; you never know what ideas the other people have got.”

It has given him the flexibility and quick thinking which is often the key to a successful deal.

So while other businessmen surround themselves with lawyers and advisers Ecclestone proudly claims that he has no pattern to his business.

“I fly by the seat of my pants. I know what I’m trying to achieve. Hopefully, I can convey that to people.”

What he has understood is that the modern world needs symbols and he has fashioned the ultimate modern symbol whose possession makes every country feel that it has finally graduated into the big league.

It is this that he conveys to politicians and businessmen around the world and they cannot wait to get their hands on his symbol: Formula One.

So in April Formula One arrived in Bahrain with Ecclestone brushing aside security fears, last week it arrived in China.

It even went to Hungary when the Iron Curtain existed. It could go to Russia, while India, keen to move from the minor league of world recognition — call centres — wants it in Hyderabad, the city where, as it happens, call centres mushroom.

It is the possession of this symbol and his ability to market it that has made him so important and ensured friendships ranging from Nelson Mandela through Pele to Silvio Berlusconi.

The awe in which he is held in the international sports world is truly something to behold.

Two years ago just as the Manchester Commonwealth Games were due to begin, and British ministers were debating whether to back a London Olympic bid, I asked Ron Walker, the man in charge of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006, who should lead the London bid.

Walker did not hesitate. “Bernie Ecclestone. He is the only one in England who can lead the bid. He can open doors no one else can. He can pick up the phone to the Malaysian Prime Minister and just walk into his office. Think what that sort of power can do for a London bid.”

As it happens ministers thought Ecclestone as bid leader was a bridge too far, but in the last year Ecclestone has often met Richard Caborn, the minster for sport, and while he has no official role in the London bid he is active behind the scenes, opening doors that would otherwise remain closed.

It is this that makes Silverstone’s failure to generate enough resources to keep the Grand Prix all the more ironic. It means that Ecclestone can persuade governments and business around the world to come together to host his symbol but not in his homeland.

Not that this will worry him.

He knows he has a product that sells round the world and if Britain cannot appreciate it that is Britain’s problem.

© Mihir Bose


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