Bernie Ecclestone accused of bribing F1 drivers by an Australian F1 legend
Bernie Ecclestone – whose Christian name is often used in the context of bungs and bribes – is just the kind of person whose past mistakes keep coming back to haunt him. An encounter with an Australian driver named Alan Jones in 1985 is an example of such.
Gnome-like Ecclestone – not to be confused with Theresa May’s relatively innocent garden gnome-like little hubby – supposedly, according to a new autobiography, it now turns out, supposedly paid Jones to “feign illness and miss the controversial 1985 South African Grand Prix in order to avoid sparking outrage with a team backer.”
In an extract, published by News.com.au, Jones reveals:
I was summoned to see Bernie Ecclestone in his penthouse. Not sure what I had done this time, I fronted up. As I went in the door Bernie said, “How do you feel?” Standard greeting, although he had a look in his eye, I gave him a standard reply, “Pretty good, thanks.”
“What do you think your chances are of winning the race tomorrow?” he asked.
Again, I felt no need to be subtle: “Bernie, I think you know the answer to that question. If I start now, probably pretty good.”
“Well, I’ve got a bit of an idea. If you pull up sick and can’t run again this weekend, we’ll give you first-place prize money. Go home and visit Australia.”
The background was that US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson had said that if a Beatrice car raced in South Africa he was going to get all of the black workers — thousands of them — at Beatrice around the US to go on strike. Beatrice couldn’t be seen to be backing down to an individual like him, but if they didn’t back down there was a chance of the strike.
So Bernie came up with an idea. “If the driver falls crook and can’t drive, then the Beatrice car doesn’t race. It’s a force majeure. Jesse Jackson can’t get on his soapbox and say, ‘I forced that company to withdraw,’ and he also couldn’t call a strike because the car didn’t race.”
The idea was that I would wait until Saturday morning when everyone went to the circuit. I would quietly check out, and jump on a plane to Harare to get home (because Qantas wouldn’t fly to South Africa).
This could not afford to leak at all. I’m pretty sure only Teddy and Carl knew from inside the team. I could not tell the mechanics or anybody.
And so, on the Saturday morning I was gone. I just didn’t turn up. They had the car out ready to go, when they were told, “AJ’s been struck down by a virus and we are not racing.”
I made a miraculous recovery for the Australian Grand Prix, which was just as well.
And still, some wonder: “Why doesn’t Bernie Ecclestone have a knighthood?” The answer is clear.
Pictured above: Alan Jones and Bernie Ecclestone.