'No Angel', Tom Bower's biography of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, goes down in history as being one of the most inaccurate books about motor racing. Pitpass reported some of the key errors soon after the book was published in February and when even more glaring inaccuracies came to light we were compelled to warn readers again. We didn't think it could get any worse but then the German version of the book was published in September. When a senior power-broker in F1 sent a copy to Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, he could hardly believe his eyes. Bower has excelled himself.
There is no need to go over all the old ground of the failings in Bower's book except to say that they range from basic factual mistakes to business errors and, most worrying of all, complete fabrication of events which are described in detail but simply never took place. It left senior F1 personnel stunned and it was extremely eye-opening given that Bower prides himself on having a fine reputation.
One example of Bower's imagination working overdrive comes on page 84 of his tome when writing about the events of the 1976 F1 championship or at least, when writing about what he thought took place then. 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 one point more than his Ferrari-driving rival 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."
Bower may blow his trumpet about having a fine reputation but he would not have been able to provide proof for his allegations if Williams had taken action over them. Pitpass has reported this extensively and Sylt is certain that Williams' senior managers were aware of it. As the German version of the book proves, Bower is also well aware.
Page 98 of the German version has a different version of the events from 1976. Directly translated, the German version says: "When he was on the way to the airport, it suddenly stopped raining, and Lauda would always believe that John Surtees had instructed his driver to allow Hunt to overtake so that a Briton could become world champion by a point."
Now it is Surtees and not Williams. Shouldn't this have been checked by Bower or his legal reader who gets a hefty helping of praise in the introduction to the book?
Anyone who wants a truthful account of Ecclestone's life should buy a copy of 'Bernie' the biography written by Susan Watkins, wife of F1's former medical delegate Sid. The paperback version of the book is out this month and is bang up to date with comments directly from the man himself.
The last word on this is best left to Bower's book itself. The very first page of the German version states that "the first edition was published in 2010 by Faber and Faber limited, London, under the title 'No Angel. The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone'". This might come as news to Faber and Faber because the first page of the first edition states "First published in 2011". If the year of publication isn't accurate what hope is there for the rest of the book?