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Full speed ahead for 80-year-old Ecclestone

He is not, he says, a great believer in democracy, and recent comments in newspaper interviews about the merits of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein did not go down well, but at the age of 80, Bernie Ecclestone sees no reason to change his ways. Neither does retirement seem to be an option.

Ecclestone has been at the helm of Formula One for decades. His wealth is put at around US$2 billion but money and power, he insists, mean nothing to him.

Along with former partner and ally Max Mosley, who led the international motorsport federation, the FIA, Ecclestone has made sure Formula One has become a world championship in every sense. New venues have opened in Asia and the expansion is set to continue with races in the Russian winter Olympic venue of Sochi, in India and in Austin, Texas.

"If I stop working, I cannot solve problems any more," he told Germany's Bild am Sonntag. "If I'm not solving problems, that's the beginning of the end. So I work and I like to work."

Ecclestone might like to take a breather on Thursday to celebrate his 80th birthday, but the day could well be like any other.

"What's the difference being 79 one day and 80 the next? It's the same. I don't even know where I'm going to be. I'll be travelling somewhere," he said in an interview with the Guardian.

Ecclestone's business sense appeared to have been nurtured while still wearing short trousers. He recalls how he traded with just about everything he got his hands on even before starting school.

His attempts to become a racing driver were less successful but his business acumen on the circuit was soon noted.

He managed driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, who died after a crash, and was then Jochen Rindt's manager. When the Austrian-born racer was fatally injured in a crash at Monza on 5 September, 1970, Ecclestone carried his blood-stained helmet away. The pain is still visible when he talks of Rindt.

"Today he would not have died," he says.

After Rindt's death, Ecclestone bought the Brabham team (1971 to 1987) and became president of the then constructors' association FOCA. In 1977 he bought advertising rights, a year later television rights for all grands prix - a key money-making operation but also a source of friction with the teams over revenue distribution.

Ecclestone has always been someone who has divided opinion, but gives the impression that too much fuss has been made of some of his more controversial statements.

However after describing Hitler in an interview last year with the Times as a politician who was "able to get things done", he did apologise in a subsequent interview with the Jewish Chronicle, while saying his comments were taken the wrong way.

Ecclestone is a consummate media professional. The 1.60-metre tall Briton is here, there and everywhere around the circuits on a weekend, making a point of dropping in at the media centre where he will share a joke with journalists, answer questions - and question back if he finds one less to his liking.

It's a life he has known since the inaugural 1950 Formula One season. After leaving school at 16 to work in the local gas works in Bexleyheath near London, Ecclestone's love of motorcycling took him into bike spare part trading - later car dealership - and then racing itself.

He took part in a pre-race event at the first F1 world championship race in Silverstone in 1950, but early on realised he would have more success in the commercial side of the sport.

Today he is the chief executive of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration, with the private equity group CVC now holding majority control.

Ten years ago Ecclestone sold 75 per cent of SLEC Holdings, the holding company of the Formula One group of companies, to the Munich media group EM.TV before CVC became major shareholder in March 2006.

SLEC was named after Ecclestone's second wife Slavica Ecclestone with whom he has two daughters. The couple was divorced in March 2009 and Ecclestone now has a new partner 48 years his junior.

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