Thank you as always, I thought I would ring Bernie Ecclestone’s office to say thank you. Right now, just a day after he had been kicked out of F1 the whole world is full of derogatory stories about the 86 years old impresario.
So as I was helping him way back in 1985 before the inaugural Hungarian GP-the first behind the Iron Curtain – calling his office to say thank you was clearly the right thing to do. Called his office and said please tell Mr E that I just wanted to say thank you. Just a minute later his PA called me back. Hello Mr Frankl, this is Poppy, Mr E’s PA.
Two minutes later the phone rings again. Hello Mr F, this is Poppy again. Mr E would like to talk to you.
So Bernie and I had a nice conversation, I told him how grateful we were for the Hungarian GP and agreed to meet in Monaco at the Grand Prix in May. And that was that. In the middle of a day when every newspaper, BBC, CNN were all calling him! Can’t say I wasn’t pleased. Mind you, we do go back to 1969 when Jochen Rindt introduced me to him, he was the Austrian’s manager at the time.
I think we all know his amazing rise to power and absolute power at that. If he wanted to cancel a race he did so without batting an eyelid. If he wanted double championship points for the last race of the season that is what he did.
In the process he did make an awful lot of money for himself but not just for himself. Some team owners-former garage mechanics-were flying around the World in their private jets staying at the very best hotel. Many of the drivers also became multi millionaires because Bernie turned a small sport into a mega spectacular. Well, most of the time. Some of the new circuits were pretty awful, with very few spectators and after a few years they all shut their doors. Take one example-the Turkish GP. The government spent a fortune on building a beautiful grand stand and a very good track which the drivers loved, Felipe Massa in particular.
But it was on the Asian side, the traffic was horrendous, people los interest and that was that. Same with the Indian GP. Valencia-another one.
So the debate about Bernie will go on for ever. Was he good for the sport ? in my opinion-absolutely. Did he do some bizarre deals? Certainly. Should he have resigned a few years ago? Not necessarily. He is brighter at 86 than most people at 26.
As for the folks in Atlanta.. just ask the hotel owners, the owners of expensive restaurants or even guys who live near the circuit and earned a few bucks parking your car for a few hours. They think Bernie is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I will never forget when he called me in my office in London back in 1985 to ask if they had bread and butter on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I am not making this up, some teams still arrived in trucks and buses laden with food and drinks.