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Wednesday, 30 June, 1999, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Bernie Ecclestone, the man behind Formula One
Bernie Ecclestone meetng Cherie Blair
Bernie Ecclestone may be a short man - 5ft 4in (1.6m) - but he is the most important component of Formula One and one of the highest-salaried executives in the world.

He owns Formula One Holdings, which controls almost every part of the motor sport. He paid himself 54m in 1995-96 and is expected to become even richer if the company is floated on the Stock Exchange.

The flotation was scheduled for 1997, but Mr Ecclestone said he had been too busy to get the project off the ground.

Some reports suggested the delay had been caused by divisions between Mr Ecclestone and some of the Formula One teams over revenue-sharing and whether they should get a stake in the floated business.

One of the company's main assets is its 25-year contract with the sport's governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), to sell television rights. There had been speculation that the lengthy contract might be challenged in the courts, but Mr Ecclestone's legal advisers believed it would survive the threat.

In an interview, Mr Ecclestone said his determination to proceed with the sale of the company was driven by fear that the business could fall into the wrong hands when he retired or died.

Mr Ecclestone - whose fortune is estimated at 2bn - has spent 70m and 30 years of his life building up Formula One. Now much of the company is owned by his wife - Croatian-born Slavica, 37, a 6ft 2in former Armani model.

He said: "I would hate to see it go down the drain because it was badly managed. If all the teams owned it they'd destroy it. They can't agree on anything, not even on how to share their money out. They think they can run the business - I know they can't."

Mr Ecclestone's business career started after he left Woolwich Polytechnic in south-east London with a degree in chemical engineering.

He established a successful car and motorcycle dealership in Bexley, Kent, and had a brief career as a racing-car driver before crashing.

In 1970 he set up the Brabham racing team. He now controls the Formula One Constructors' Association, which represents all the top teams, and is second-in-command to Max Mosley at the FIA.

He owns homes in Corsica, Gstaad and the French Riviera, and two jets.

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