Bernie Ecclestone admits ‘paying money under table’ to alter F1 world champion race in season finale

Former Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has confessed that he tampered with the outcome of the 1981 F1 world championship.

What happened in the 1981 F1 season finale?

The 1981 season was predominantly a battle between two South Americans. Brazil’s Nelson Piquet and Argentina’s Carlos Reutemann both had three wins a piece heading into the season finale.

The race was set to be held in Las Vegas and Reutemann entered the event with a narrow one-point lead over Piquet. Meanwhile, Jacques Laffite mathematically was still in the runnings, but the only way he could lift the title was for both his rivals to retire and for him to win the race.

Reutemann had bagged pole position, but quickly saw himself slip behind and finish in 8th position. Piquet, meanwhile, held onto 5th spot and was crowned the world champion.

Bernie Ecclestone (right) in his early days. Credit:
Bernie Ecclestone (right) in his younger days. Credit:

Soon after, Reutemann retired from racing as he was not able to recover from the mental agony he went through following the final race.

Piquet, of course, went on to win two more world championships in 1983 and 1987.

The controversy

Nelson Piquet, 1981. Credit:
Nelson Piquet, 1981. Credit:

In sultry conditions, the drivers required a lot of physiotherapy during their practice sessions due to the counter clockwise nature of the circuit.

Their necks were taking a proper pounding and Reutemann was one of many drivers who required a massage on the eve of the race.

There was one masseur who was known for his magical abilities of healing boxers.

Ecclestone, who was head at Brabham at the time, has confessed that he met the masseur and paid him money under the table to instead choose to do a much better job on PIquet.

Reutemann did not get any help in the process and had to race with a stiff neck that had not been attended to.

“There was a lot of g force in the way the corners were put together” said Ecclestone in the documentary ‘Lucky!’  

“After the first day’s practice, it was obvious the drivers were in trouble. Carlos got hold of the masseur who used to look after the boxers.

“I went to see this person, and after some financial discussion, they decided to favour Nelson. I don’t know whether I ever told Carlos”.

Reutemann’s family reacts to Ecclestone’s confession

Carlos Reutemann. Credit:
Carlos Reutemann. Credit:

Ecclestone’s revelation has not gone down well with the people of Argentina or fans of the sport in general, who can see clear foul play in the way the former F1 boss conducted himself.

The Reutemann family has appreicated Ecclestone for finally telling the world a truth that has always haunted the family.

Cora Reutemann has urged F1 authorities to crown her father champion of 1981, claiming it is obvious based on Ecclestone’s confession.

“The day before dad died, I sent Bernie an audio asking him to be honest with him and tell him that he is the true 1981 champion”,  said Reutemann to La Central Deportiva.

“Unfortunately, the next day, dad died, and that audio was left hanging in the air.

“I already knew. Not only about the masseuse but more serious things like the fact that the Brabham was not suitable for racing because ground effect was banned.

“When Dad died, Ecclestone told me to ask him for anything. I asked him to tell the truth. He is responding to me publicly, which is much better than what I asked of him. 

“Obviously, my dad is the 1981 F1 champion.”

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