Bernie, by Susan Watkins

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The Independent Culture

The author, the wife of Formula One's medical chief Professor Sid Watkins and a close friend of Bernie Ecclestone for 30 years, began writing this biography of the sport's diminutive supremo nine years ago with Ecclestone's blessing. Then he changed his mind and blocked publication for several years before suddenly relenting.

It has been suggested that his change of heart arose from a desire to upstage the publication of another biography, due out in February and written by Tom Bower, the author of critical biographies of a number of tycoons.

So much for the background; what about the book itself? It's big in every sense: 432 pages, packed with anecdotes and quotes, not least from Ecclestone himself. Watkins traces his rise from a modest background to immense wealth – he and his family are reckoned to be worth more than £2.5 billion – with a sure hand.

He showed an early entrepreneurial streak and was running a lucrative car dealership in Bexleyheath by his early 20s. His love of racing, first motorbikes, then cars, eventually led him to buy the Brabham team, and it was then that he recognised F1's untapped commercial potential.

Not everybody is happy at the way he set about realising that potential. One team owner, Sir Frank Williams, says: "He is a great deal more fun than people imagine... a loyal friend." But Ron Dennis of McLaren claims: "When you reflect on a deal with Bernie, you feel that he's managed to squeeze that extra five per cent out of you... you never feel that warmth of a fair deal... Bernie effectively stole Formula One from us."

Watkins guides us so expertly through the deals that brought Ecclestone to power that one wonders if there is anything new left for Bower to write about. Which is probably just how Bernie likes it.

Published by hardback by Haynes, £19.99