Bernie Ecclestone, the former F1 ringmaster, is not unknown to be in the papers for controversy. For years, the former Formula One boss has attracted attention with confusing statements about autocrats such as Vladimir Putin (70, “I would still take a bullet for him”) or Saddam Hussein (69, “He made Iraq more stable”) for example. Ecclestone was featured in a recent documentary called ‘Lucky!’ where he made an uncharacteristic admission about cheating in F1.
‘Lucky!’, which is to be released shortly before the start of the Formula 1 season on numerous streaming services, Ecclestone spoke about his decades-long time at the helm of the racing series.
Cheats despite running F1
In 1981, Brazilian Nelson Piquet battled it out with Argentinian Carlos Reutemann who drove for Williams, battling for the Formula One crown. At the time, Ecclestone was team principal of Brabham, the squad Piquet drove for. He also ran FOTA, and was the spokesman for the Formula One teams association that ran the championship in conjunction with the FIA, which makes the admission for cheating a far bigger deal.
Before the last race in Las Vegas, both Reutemann and Piquet could still become world champions. However, the Williams driver only finished eighth, Piquet secured the title with fifth place.
Reutemann, like the other drivers, had physical problems on the demanding track in Nevada. Ecclestone took advantage of this by trying to bribe.
He explains in the documentary: “After the first day of practice, it was clear that the drivers would be struggling with neck pain. Carlos spoke to the masseur who was in the pits.”
Then Bernie says: “I went to see this person and after a financial discussion he decided to favour Nelson. We won the championship in 1981 and that was the end for Carlos, who stopped racing soon after. I don’t know if I ever told him that.”
Reutemann only raced twice more the following season and announced his retirement.
Redemption for Reutemann
Statements like this came as less of a surprise to Reutemann’s family. Daughter Cora told the Argentinian radio station Cadena 3:
“I already knew that. Not only what he confessed about the masseur, but something much more serious, which was that the Brabham was not racing fairly because of the banned ground effect it used.”
In the same conversation, she also revealed her father’s last wish. Reutemann passed away in July 2021. Cora:
“The day before my father died, I sent Bernie an audio message asking him to be honest with my father and tell him before he passed away that he was the true champion of 1981.”
She continued, “Unfortunately, he died the next day and the matter remained in limbo. I never imagined it would have such significance as it has now. Bernie told me that I could ask him for anything I needed. I asked him to tell the truth. He did it publicly, which is much better.”