Last year one of the most error-ridden books on motorsport was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Tom Bower, a journalist renowned for unmasking the world's most successful businessmen was himself unmasked by the F1 community when his biography of Bernie Ecclestone was released. It didn't just contain basic factual errors, such as inaccurate names and places, it also included severe misunderstandings about how the business of F1 works and, most worryingly, the book described in detail incidents which simply didn't take place. As Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed, Bower invented a new end to the 1976 world championship and then promptly created a new version of events after we revealed this. That's accuracy for you.
Bower is now back for more and has written an article in the Mail on Sunday to try and eke out the last bit of promotion for his now outdated book which has recently been re-released in paperback format. In the Mail article Bower proudly trumpets that he has added in a new chapter and, as the headline of his article shows, he pays great attention to salacious details about Ecclestone's family.
Despite being at sea when it comes to the motorsport industry, Bower is adept when it comes to getting the correct name of the venue which hosted the wedding of Ecclestone's daughter Petra last year and the brand of champagne served there. It is of course highly ironic that a man with a reputation for writing supposedly revealing books about hard-nosed businessmen is clearly at home when writing material most suited to newspaper society pages.
The motorsport details in the Mail article are classic Bower. He explains that by early 2011 a number of F1 teams "were once again threatening to break away and form their own motor- racing league." Sylt can't recall any direct threat from the teams last year and for good reason. As Pitpass has reported clause 4.5 (b) of the Concorde Agreement prevents the teams, or anyone authorised by them, from directly or indirectly making "any public statement or statements in any medium, whether orally or in writing, or in any jurisdiction, which relates to or is connected with... an equivalent championship or series to the FIA F1 Championship."
In May 2011 Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo claimed that once the Concorde expires at the end of this year, one of three options for the teams would be to set up their own series. However, not only was this a statement of fact rather than a threat, but it was also denied by Red Bull's motorsport consultant Helmut Marko who said that "being Italian [Ferrari] tend to express things more emotionally than others. In my opinion, the situation is nowhere near as bad as it looks." In May, four of the teams also met to discuss the now-moribund bid for F1 from media group News Corporation. This was reported by some outlets as a discussion about a rival series but again, no threat was made by the teams.
You've got to hand it to Bower as he is persistent. The problem is that without long experience covering the business of F1 it is very easy to misunderstand the often complex machinations in the sport. In his Mail article Bower claims that "in the past, Ecclestone had stymied the threat [from the teams of starting a rival series] by a special payment to Ferrari, the biggest name in Formula 1, and the most influential. But his normal manoeuvres were complicated by the teams' reluctance to compete in the Bahrain Grand Prix."
Again, Sylt can't recall why the teams' reluctance to race at Bahrain could have prevented Ecclestone from making a special payment to Ferrari. What Sylt can recall is that, as Pitpass has reported, clause 4.8 of the Concorde states that Ecclestone's business "agrees and undertakes that it shall not...make an offer prior to 31 December 2011 to any Team in respect of that Team's participation in the FIA F1 Championship after 31 December 2012 unless it makes an offer to all of the Teams on terms which are the same in all material respects." In short, if Ecclestone had made an offer to Ferrari last year he would have had to make the same offer to all the teams. It is this reason, and nothing to do with Bahrain, that complicated Ecclestone's normal manoeuvres last year.
Bower's article in the Mail also includes a rehash of the details of the trial against F1's former chairman Gerhard Gribkowsky. We have heard a thousand times that Ecclestone paid Gribkowsky to stop him making allegations to the UK tax authority and indeed this news was broken by Sylt with Pitpass carrying the first detailed explanation of this from Ecclestone.
Bower's repetition of the trial details simply serve to highlight that now is probably the worst time to be releasing a book about Ecclestone. Surely it would have made more sense to wait until after the trial has finished so that the full impact on Ecclestone could be covered in it? Bower's take on this is itself curious.
In the Mail article he writes that "if Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs decided the trust was not truly independent, he would lose the benefit of transferring £2.9?billion to it, free of taxes." However, for some reason, in the Mail article Bower doesn't repeat his allegation on page 289 of his book that during a conversation between Ecclestone and Gribkowsky "Ecclestone told Gribkowsky Bambino was beyond his control. His answer was meaningless." In true Bower style, there is of course absolutely no evidence to support this incredibly damning claim against Ecclestone which, if true, by Bower's own admission, could land Ecclestone with a tax bill running into billions.