Forgotten F1: Bernie’s Predecessor had ties to Naziism

Before this vanishes from history, without challenge, let it be said that these can only be allegations on the premise that Jean Marie Balestre is no longer here. Bernie Ecclestone is a controversial figure, but the man that he succeeded at the top of Formula 1 was beyond this.

A key figure in the FISA-FOCA political F1 war,  FISA President Jean Marie Balestre ran Formula 1 at a time in which Bernie Ecclestone, then the team owner of Brabham, was his staunch opponent and leader of the Formula One Constructors Association.

Source: Oglobo
Source: Oglobo

Jean Marie Balestre was passionate about motor racing, that much is clear. But he also had a checkered past in which claims of his own history didn’t add up. He claimed to be a fighter in the Spanish Civil War at the age of fifteen and studied law prior to being of age to attend university. On his Wikipedia page, and in other F1 publications that are clearly subdued from publishing anything that doesn’t toe the line, Jean Marie Balestre is documented as being an undercover agent for the French whilst he was in the French SS.

It’s difficult to accept the claims that Jean Marie Balestre wasn’t a genuine member of the French SS on the premise that he only admitted to being an undercover agent once it was revealed that he had been involved. Balestre also claimed that in 1940, he fought in the French military during the battle of France, only for the lie to be spotlighted when it was revealed he had in fact, been in prison for fraud.

Balestre (left) would lose his grip on F1 in 1982 to Max Mosley (centre) and Bernie Ecclestone (right)
Balestre (left) would lose his grip on F1 in 1982 to Max Mosley (centre) and Bernie Ecclestone (right)

The claim that he was a double agent and the legion of honour medal for services to France in 1968 are both smoke and mirrors. Why would somebody who had fought against Naziism as an undercover agent, then try and legally subdue photographs of himself is full SS costume from going public in 1970?

The evidence will come out at a later date, and will bring the sport into disrepute. It’s a tarnish that is made the more darker by the deliberate coverup. In the 1950’s Balestre offered official certification claiming that he’d been in the resistance, but later investigations have determined that these were bought.

Jean-Marie_Balestre

In a life in which he tried to cover up his past, Jean Marie Balestre sued anyone who tried to reveal the truth. His legal team were better equipped, but the judges charged him derisory sums in damages as a hint to the world that they themselves believed none of it.

Bernie Ecclestone’s departure from Formula One was called for from all quarters, including this one at times, but at least he was just a capitalist, his secrets were associated with financial matters. In the context of the man before him, that’s nothing.