Formula One's man of mystery

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The Independent Online
It only seemed to confirm what everyone had suspected all along - that Bernie Ecclestone is sitting on a pile of potentially explosive secrets.

The chief executive of Formula One racing had a hard time denying a link between his pounds 1m pre-election donation to the Labour Party and the Government's decision to exempt F1 teams from a ban on tobacco advertising. Even worse, it soon emerged that Mr Ecclestone had been in negotiations to make a second donation. But these had not panned out.

So what else could Mr Ecclestone be hiding? Ironically, this is a man who has spent most of his professional life gaining exposure for his sport. F1 racing is now the third most-watched television sport after the Olympics and the World Cup, and draws billions in advertising revenue.

It has made him rich. Last year Mr Ecclestone paid himself almost pounds 55m as boss of Formula One Promotions & Administration, his private company that dominates the sport.

Yet the business is shrouded in secrecy. Mr Ecclestone rarely speaks to the press. During races, he spends most of his time inside "The Kremlin", his silver motor home with tinted windows. Almost no one besides the man himself understands exactly how the business works.

He made F1 racing into a hugely successful phenomenon, but he can't seem to achieve his immediate aim - turning himself into a billionaire by selling shares in his business on the London stock exchange.

He has been promising that a flotation was imminent since last spring, but the City and the European Commission are not co-operating. The Brussels competition authorities who are scrutinising the way he does business stand between him and the chequered flag.