Pitpass' Mike Lawrence has already made his feelings about Tom Bower's recent biography of Bernie Ecclestone quite clear. To say it has errors aplenty is an understatement. However, business editor Chris Sylt believes that one stands out head and shoulders above the rest. It is one thing spelling a name inaccurately or getting a date wrong (Bower does both frequently) but completely inventing a situation which is highly defamatory to a senior personality in F1 takes things to a whole new level.
The allegation is made on page 84 of Bower's tome in his description of the events of the 1976 F1 championship or at least, what he thought took place. The '76 season was won by James Hunt in the last race - the Japanese Grand Prix. Hunt came third in the race which gave him just enough points to beat Ferrari's Niki Lauda.
Bower states that "Lauda, fearing a crash in torrential rain and creeping darkness, retired from the race and immediately headed for the airport. To his surprise, the rain suddenly stopped and Frank Williams ordered his driver to allow Hunt to pass, so that a Briton could win the world championship."
Bower directly accuses Williams of rigging the result of the championship and he throws in another defamatory statement for good measure by saying that Williams did this to favour a British driver. Nice allegation of xenophobia there then. The most amazing thing about these allegations is that neither is true.
Hunt led the '76 Japanese GP until the 62nd lap and then, after a tyre change, overtook Clay Regazzoni's Ferrari and Alan Jones' Surtees in order to finish third and win the championship. Crucially, the two Williams cars retired on laps 23 and 49 so Hunt never needed to pass a Williams to win the championship. Accordingly, it is completely false for Bower to say that Frank Williams "ordered his driver to allow Hunt to pass, so that a Briton could win the world championship."
Not only is this false but Bower seems to have completely fabricated it since it is hard to see how he could have confused Williams with another team. It is as good as unimaginable that Ferrari ordered Clay Regazzoni to allow Hunt to pass since Regazzoni's team mate Lauda was Hunt's rival. Likewise there is no suggestion that Surtees ordered Alan Jones to allow Hunt to pass him. Race reports reveal that Jones had a flat tyre and this is how Hunt managed to overtake him.
Bower's false allegation couldn't have come at a much worse time as his book was released the week before the British team floated on the Frankfurt stock exchange. The company which currently runs Williams was not established until the year after Hunt won the championship but the false description could still reflect badly on Frank and his team today. Williams carries Frank's name, he is its team principal and majority shareholder so clearly there is a considerable connection to the false events described in Bower's book.
It is hard to say how many people have read the claim in Bower's book. It is ranked 150 in the UK by sales on Amazon.co.uk so it isn't exactly a small circulation. Ironically, Frank Williams himself is quoted on the outer sleeve of the book but presumably he doesn't endorse its content.
Worryingly, Bower seems to want to be sued. In an interview on YouTube, he says "some people can't go to sleep if they are sued. I find it hard to go to sleep if I am actually not being pursued or sued. I need to know that I am actually treading on a toe because if I am not treading on a toe and getting a reaction then I think I am not doing my job and not delivering the truth that I want to discover."
Perhaps he should have a different maxim. If you're going to criticise someone, let alone defame them, then at least get the facts right. Bower seems to have forgotten about the truth in his version of the events which took place in '76. One would have thought that such a significant error would have been picked up by fact checkers or proof readers and of course Bower crows that he had a legal reader. But that's perhaps not the silliest statement he makes.
Bower's opening line is that "the originator of this book wants to remain anonymous. A major personality in Formula One, he persistently urged me over some years to expose Bernie Ecclestone's dishonesty." Instead, Bower has exposed himself.
In our previous piece about the book Pitpass catalogued a litany of factual errors made by Bower and, as shown above, he happily describes situations which simply did not take place. However, what is most surprising is that for someone who has specialised in writing about businessmen (Richard Branson, Conrad Black and Mohamed Al Fayed have all been subjects of Bower's books) his figures don't seem to add up.
How about his take on the finances of Red Bull co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz. On page 334 of his book Bower claims that "the Red Bull team cost Mateschitz about $400 million a year," then on page 376 he says "Mateschitz had personally spent at least $700 million over six years in the hope of beating the major manufacturers."