"Lucky" shows former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone as you’ve never seen him before

Review: New eight-part docuseries launching this month on streaming platforms.

With all the commotion about a certain Netflix release that hit the screens recently, docuseries are quite the thing at the moment. So it’s timely that the latest offering from BAFTA winning “Senna“ writer and producer Manish Pandey should drop at Christmas on Discovery+ and other platforms internationally.

Having dominated F1 for over 40 years, Bernie Ecclestone was moved aside in 2017 as Liberty Media stamped their ownership on the sport. But now Ecclestone, 92, is having his say. As the sole protagonist of this new eight-part docuseries, written and directed by Pandey, Ecclestone tells his story from 1950 up to the fateful day in 2017, when Liberty’s newly installed F1 CEO Chase Carey gave him his marching orders after over 35 years as the sport’s ringmaster.

The programmes are incredibly rich in archive, with spectacular footage from 1950 onwards, including the first Grand Prix at Silverstone, where Ecclestone was present. As a frontman for F1 Ecclestone was a man of few words, but here he is front and centre and seemingly comfortable telling his own narrative, with insights that are at times hilarious and at other times extremely sad.

The early programmes, covering the ‘50s, ’60s and ‘70s, inevitably feature many driver fatalities. The woefully inadequate safety of cars and race tracks in F1’s early days is depressingly familiar as the decades pass and more great names are lost: Hawthorn, Collins, Rindt, Cevert, Villeneuve. Ecclestone played his part in pushing safety, particularly when he got control of the sport in the 1980s, installing Prof Sid Watkins as F1’s medical supervisor and empowering him.

Ecclestone is at his best here when describing the behind closed doors deal-making, which was his stock in trade. As it is close to impossible to illustrate these anecdotes with archive, the producers hit on an elegant solution with comic book style animation that sounds cheesy, but actually works well.

That said, the archive researcher has played a blinder and there is actual footage of race promoters handing wads of cash over to Ecclestone, who arranges them neatly in his briefcase and thanks them for their business. There is also wonderfully atmospheric footage of the kerbside second hand car trading in London’s Warren Street, where Ecclestone cut his teeth as a dealmaker.

But the series must feature the largest F1 video archive purchase in history and as well as racing action, there are some gems, as we saw in Senna. Jean-Marie Balestre, the 1980s president of the FIA, whom Ecclestone wrestled for control of F1 and who played a starring role in “Senna”, is again portrayed as a pompous buffoon, whom Ecclestone runs rings around in some scenes of exquisite humour and awkwardness.

The producers set themselves quite a challenge by making Ecclestone the main narrator of the series; the story is entirely seen through his eyes. Other leading figures from the sport’s history speak, but only in snatches of contemporary interviews; figures like Graham Hill, Colin Chapman captured in their time.

But it works. For the main storytelling elements, Ecclestone is set in a bright, all-white environment, looks straight into the camera, his face lit so all the craggy contours are visible. With nowhere to hide, his face tells a parallel story; there is emotion, some regret, plenty of humour and wry moments of score settling.

Ecclestone has made several headlines for the wrong reasons in recent times with controversial pronouncements on Putin and Saddam Hussein. But this exercise is not about headlines, it is very clearly a legacy piece for his young son Ace, who is 89 years Ecclestone’s junior and unlikely to get to know his father’s story in detail from his own lips. By doing it this way, we all get to see it too.

Many biographers and film makers have wanted to tell Bernie’s story. Pandey was in the right place at the right time with the right idea and Bernie has opened up in a way that is hard for anyone who worked with him in F1 to imagine.

Of course, like that other much talked about docuseries in circulation at the moment, we only have the main protagonist’s side of the story here, but for anyone with an interest in F1, how it got to be a £2 billion a year business and one of the world’s largest sports, this series will fill in many gaps.

Lucky – Where to watch from December 2022

Warner Brothers Discovery for the UK
Viaplay for Nordics, Poland, Baltics and the Netherlands
DAZN for Japan, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland
ESPN LATAM South America

For other territories:  Facebook/LuckyTVSeries

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