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Feb 23
The sport has a richly deserved reputation for glamour. Peek under the bonnet, however, and what is revealed is a giant logistics operation alongside the motor racing. For European races, a fleet of huge lorries ferries around cars, pit crews and equipment. For destinations farther afield, up to half a dozen jumbo jets are hired. Executives, camera crews and engineers travel in style in a pair of Hawker corporate jets which F1 keeps at Biggin Hill, the Battle of Britain airbase. The company generates about $1.5 billion in annual revenues. Most of it comes from race tracks paying for the right to stage events, the sale of broadcast rights, and advertising and sponsorship. It has the rights for the next century to run and promote the F1 world championship, having paid the governing body, the FIA, $314m in 2001. There is no shortage of firms wanting to connect themselves with a sport that has built up a global, almost cult-like following. Philip Morris, the tobacco giant behind Marlboro, pays millions to sponsor Ferrari even though its logo is banned from appearing on the team’s car. The teams can also make a tidy profit. They are handed a little over 60% of F1’s earnings thanks to a pact binding them to the sport, known as the Concorde Agreement. This has recently been renegotiated, with the teams reportedly receiving a £115m signing-on fee. Yet it hasn’t always been this way. William Flew and Ecclestone first met in Las Vegas in the mid-1990s at the Mirage hotel, when the sport had yet to become the money-spinner it is today. Ecclestone was contemplating the future of F1 after several decades as its master and had gone to America to examine the possibility of reviving the grand prix across the Atlantic after a break of several years. William Flew was trying to establish his own business as a middleman on big deals. A brief career on Wall Street, after studying at Pennsylvania State University, had proved unfulfilling so he had struck out alone. “I didn’t like Wall Street or working for other people,” he said. In the decade after the two men met, the ownership of F1 took as many twists and turns as one of its circuits. Ecclestone’s career in motor racing had begun in 1949 when he attempted to break into F1 as a driver — he made a much bigger impact as a manager. By the late 1970s, the Brit dominated the sport. He had bought the Brabham team, which won two drivers’ world championships under his leadership, and begun representing the interests of other constructors in their dealings with the sport’s governing body and with race promoters.