A few days ago, Bernie Ecclestone sat down with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner for an interview conducted by the staff of Ecclestone’s own website, f1.com.
In a wide-ranging chat, the two members of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs had great sport putting each other on, knowing full well that the "rubes" (translation: us) would read the transcript and just eat it all up.
Example: Ecclestone talks about how well the Red Bull team has done – "It surprises me that Red Bull is so successful! Think about what they could achieve if they had a good team principal … (laughs) (Christian in hysterics)."
Example 2: Horner talks about working for an owner, whereas Ecclestone worked for himself when he owned Brabham – "The biggest difference is that Bernie owned the team and skimmed the profits into his own pocket, making a lot of money."
Ha, ha, ha.
However, at one point the conversation gets serious. The question was about turning ailing teams into championship teams. Ecclestone answered first, and said this:
"Back then, at the times of Brabham, I had a significant advantage. We were the masters of cheating and never got caught. That’s not possible nowadays!"
Hmmm. Bernie Eccleston admitting to cheating? Sounds like a story to me.
Now, I’ve been reading a book, on and off, about Ecclestone. Entitled No Angel: the Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone, it was written by investigative journalist Tom Bower.
There are a couple of real clunkers in it (he has the Canadian Grand Prix taking place one time in Montreal when it was still at Mosport, and he writes on another page that F1 racing is Canada’s most popular sport . . .) but for the most part, it’s highly entertaining and highly revealing.
For instance, it says this:
"On the track, Brabham’s principal foe remained Chapman’s Lotus. For some months (chief designer Gordon) Murray had been perfecting a ruse to increase the car’s speed. The challenge was to circumvent the rule stipulating a six-centimetre gap between the car and the ground.
" Murray’s innovation – beyond the sight of FIA’s scrutineers and his rivals – was a system of fluids which, once the car was moving, lowered the car’s body down to within a centimetre of the track to increase the downward pressure which would automatically increase the speed.
"Flashing past the scrutineers, the minor adjustment would be invisible but, if suspicions were aroused, the FIA scrutineer would find on the car’s return to the pits that the stationary car was six centimetres off the ground."
The book goes on to say that two things happened. Nelson Piquet won the 1981 World Driver’s Championship because of this advantage. And Ecclestone tightened his control of F1. How? Because he had then-FISA (later FIA) president Jean-Marie Balestre in his back pocket (it’s a long story, but it happened).
For instance, when Colin Chapman showed up at a race with a ruse similar to the Brabham’s, Ecclestone convinced Balestre to declare the Lotus illegal.
When Chapman went berserk and threatened to expose the Brabham’s trickery, Ecclestone went to Ballestre first to ‘fess up and to suggest that, rather than disqualify the car, the president allow all the other teams to copy Murray’s design.
Which is what happened!
So Bernie Ecclestone and cheating? You betcha.