Bernie Ecclestone, the most powerful man in Formula 1, turn 80 years old today.
He’s been a racing driver, a manager and a team owner. But above all it’s in his role as president of Formula One Management that he exerts far-reaching influence over F1.
It would be no small understatement to say Ecclestone’s vision for Formula 1 has not always struck a chord with the sport’s fans.
While his relentless drive to expand the sport has brought many benefits – improved safety standards, enormous worldwide television coverage and huge revenues – it has come as a price.
Team numbers have dwindled – and Ecclestone has hinted the increased grid size the sport has enjoyed this year is likely to fall in the near future.
A new generation of super-circuits have been built in exotic locations at no-expense-spared costs and boast tremendous facilities. But increasingly insipid layouts fail to challenge the drivers or excite the spectators.
And the sport has endured innumerable drawn-out political rows over F1’s revenues.
While 2010 has been a far less politically turbulent year than 2009, hostilities have merely been suspended – they have not ceased.
The Concorde Agreement – the document which sets down, among many other things, how much money the teams receive – is due to be renewed again in 2012.
Negotiations over the complicated three-party arrangement between Ecclestone, the FIA and the teams have never failed to provoke acrimony. Last time the teams threatened to leave and start their own rival championship.
Meanwhile there are rumours the FIA wishes to re-negotiate the terms of the 100-year commercial deal it signed with Ecclestone in 2001.
While Ecclestone hunts for greater resources in an ever-growing roster of countries, other areas of F1’s commercial operations have been neglected. The sport has been woefully slow to embrace new technologies such as the internet and high-definition broadcasts.
No-one would deny the scale of his accomplishment in driving the sport to an ever-larger audience, and the progress that has been made along the way.
And Ecclestone has never shown the slightest interest in making way for a successor or scaling back his workload. As he passes his 80th birthday F1 is still dancing to his tune, as it has been for decades.
Red Bull present Bernie Ecclestone with Zimmer Frame
Here’s some more pictures of the Zimmer Frame Red Bull presented to Bernie Ecclestone at the Korean Grand Prix weekend to mark his 80th birthday:
Images ?Ú?« Red Bull/Getty images