Faber & Faber, £18.99, 432pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone, By Tom Bower

The main title of this extraordinary book was supplied to Tom Bower by Bernie Ecclestone himself – he's clearly a man comfortable in his own skin. "First get on, then get rich, then get honest," he's apparently fond of saying. Since publication, the Formula One mogul has claimed that Bower broke a promise not to mention his family. But would Britain's best investigative writer really agree to ignore an aspect of his subject's life that could be so revealing? What's particularly odd about the complaint is that Ecclestone's relationships with his parents, wives, partner and daughters constitute just about the only area of his life from which he emerges with any credit.

To be fair to Ecclestone, he granted otherwise more or less complete access: when friends and associates approached by Bower rang him for advice, Ecclestone told them to tell the truth. Bower wonders whether he might regret such openness. Surely so, given that he comes across as mean, vindictive, professionally amoral, gratuitously nasty and thoroughly unpleasant. He has a sense of humour, but its barbs are lethal. He's fond of pranks, but they're never funny and always seem designed to mess with people's heads.

His rise from second-hand car dealer to racing driver, team owner and ultimately one of the richest, most powerful men in world sport is utterly gripping. One almost admires him for being so totally, ruthlessly, his own man – addicted to deal-making, with a razor-sharp mind and an unerring ability to home in on rivals' weaknesses. He's a billionaire whose idea of the high life is a night in front of the telly watching wildlife documentaries, and whose idea of haute cuisine is egg on toast smothered in brown sauce. He flies celebs around in his $78m jet but provides no lunch other than a packet of Smarties he finds down the back of a seat.

Only one man ever got the better of him, it seems: when his £1m donation to the Labour Party came to light it was inevitably linked with the exemption he had obtained for Formula One from the ban on tobacco sponsorship. The ensuing scandal was malodorous, but Tony Blair's Teflon manoeuvrings made even Ecclestone look like a chump.

Out of the massive wealth of empire-building, rival-crushing detail that Bower packs in, two anecdotes keep coming back. One concerns the former world champion Niki Lauda, who had driven for Ecclestone's Brabham team. He was on crutches after a hip operation and asked Ecclestone for a second pass to the paddock at a Grand Prix so his son could help him round. Ecclestone turned him down.

The other concerned Rob Bain, organiser of the British Grand Prix in 2002. There were problems for Ecclestone on the way in, a steward somehow failing to recognise him. As he was sorting the problem out, Ecclestone ordered him off the circuit and withdrew his accreditation for his own race.

As the grubby world of motor racing was expertly dissected by Bower, I began to feel soiled. The exhaustive detail of the deals, machinations and double-crosses that fuel Formula One is mesmerising - and, in truth, slightly wearing. But Bower has performed an important job in getting it all on record. I started out fascinated by Ecclestone. By the end I was simply repulsed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing