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Formula One's billion dollar men

  • Story Highlights
  • Ecclestone takes pole position in F1 wealth stakes with $4.8 billion
  • Supermodel fan Briatore turns living the high life into a business
  • Schumacher turns track success into billion-dollar brand with movie potential
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By Glen Scanlon
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- They are an eclectic bunch with two things in common: their wealth and love for Formula One.

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Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has grown his fortune to nearly $5 billion.

While the drivers take centre stage these men sit back and pull the strings, building the sport's reach and helping maintain its reputation for consuming and generating large sums of cash.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is the leader of the pack, turning the sport into a global brand through his control of television rights and watching his fortune surge to $4.8 billion as a result.

The self-made Ecclestone left school aged 16 and initially went to work at a gasworks. However he began trading motorcycle parts, building the business into one of Britain's biggest motorcycle dealers.

He first dipped his toe into Formula One in the late 1950s, buying the Connaught team. However, after leaving the sport twice, his real immersion began with the purchase of Brabham in 1972.

In 1974 he helped form the Formula One Contructors' Association (FOCA) and a year later led the group in a battle with the FIA, the sport's governing body, to win a new entry and appearance fee system.

The groups wrestled for commercial control of the sport until 1981, when FOCA won the rights to negotiate television contracts.

Fortunately, for Ecclestone, the teams allowed him to form his own company (Formula One Promotions and Administration) to manage their sale. TV revenues were split, with 47 percent going to the teams, 30 percent to the FIA and 23 percent to Ecclestone's company, which contributed the prize money for races.

Control of the rights shuffled between the trio until 1997, when Ecclestone's company, Formula One Management, won out in return for an annual payment.

Ecclestone, who has homes across Europe, netted $3.8 billion in 1999 from a bond issue and the sale of 75% of the business a year later, according to the UK's Sunday Times newspaper.

That sum was put into to Jersey-based trusts controlled by his wife Slavica, 49. Ecclestone gives about £50m a year to charity, the newspaper said.

Like Ecclestone, Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of the Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso teams, has combined a canny business sense with a strong eye for marketing to generate his $4 billion fortune.

The Austrian's first job was for global manufacturing giant Unilever. However, while working for Blendax, a German cosmetics company, he met Thai Chaleo Yoovidhya and discovered the drink that would later become Red Bull.

The pair launched the drink in 1987, with global sales now more than $4 billion.

Mateschitz, who rarely drinks, does not smoke and holds a pilot's licence, now focuses on other interests including a magazine and Hangar-7, the event center, at Salzburg airport which houses his historic aircraft collection.

Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya has also made his money with drink -- Kingfisher beer.

Mallya, the diamond earring-wearing owner of F1 debutants Force India, has been dubbed the 'King of Good Times' after a series of high-profile launches and lavish parties.

He inherited the family company aged 27, streamlining the operation and founding the Kingfisher brand, a cornerstone of holding company United Breweries' $5 billion worth.

Mallya pushed his father to give him seed money to launch Kingfisher after a chance find.

"When I was straight out of high school, and I went to my graduation, I was actually working as well. That's when, while going through the archive of United Breweries ... I stumbled across this label of Kingfisher beer that had been launched in the 1850s but was no longer in production.

"And something excited me about Kingfisher, you know, the bird. I saw color, I saw vibrancy, I saw movement, I saw a lot of cheekiness," Mallya said.

Cheeky and charming are two qualities Renault boss Flavio Briatore » has in spades.

Briatore, who is worth $150 million, has made an art form out of living the high life.

While not a billionaire, the Italian entrepreneur and serial supermodel dater has turned his knowledge of the super rich into a profitable brand.

Briatore's marquee project is the Billionaire Club, an exclusive night spot perched on the Italian island of Sardinia. The 2,250-sqaure meter discotheque is a magnet for celebrities and the uber wealthy.

He got involved in Formula One after Benetton, the Italian clothing empire he had been working for in the U.S., bought a struggling F1 team in 1985 and made him the marketing director.

Briatore, who knew nothing about the sport, quickly realized it was an excellent match for the clothing brand, and attracted a host of beautiful people to the paddock.

The move helped increase coverage of the sport outside motoring circles, leading to sponsorship deals with corporates that covered most of the team's costs.

One of his brightest moves, after advice from Ecclestone, was signing future seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher.

The German would go on to be one of the world's wealthiest sportsmen, with an estimated worth of more than a $1 billion.

Schumacher was the first driver to win personal sponsors after Ferrari, his last team, allowed him to sign a $10m annual deal with a German bank to place its logo on his cap.

He also actively pursued the development of his own retail range, which included caps -- he sold hundreds of thousands at $30 a pop -- and even a branded vacuum cleaner. This was in addition to his estimated $40 million annual salary.

Despite retiring Schumacher continues to test drive for Ferrari, and recent reports have suggested a movie about his life is in the offing.

McLaren team principal Ron Dennis has been a dominant force behind the scenes in F1 for nearly three decades.

He joined Cooper Racing in 1966 and in 1968 was appointed Sir Jack Brabham's chief mechanic. Three years later he launched his own company, Rondel Racing, and then in 1980 his Project Four business was merged with Team McLaren to form McLaren Racing.

He has barely looked back since, growing McLaren into a series of diversified businesses with a combined turnover worth hundreds of millions. He has a $150 million stake in McLaren and is worth an estimated $220 million.

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Like Dennis, Sir Frank Williams is practically a piece of F1's furniture. Worth an estimated $158 million, the Briton formed his first racing team in 1966, competing in Formula Two and Three.

In 1977 he formed the team known today as Williams, beating early funding issues and a 1986 car crash that left him wheelchair bound to create an enterprise with a turnover around $150 million. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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