How to beat Bernie and Max

As I headed off to Spa-Francorchamps this year, I went with a heavy heart. I had read the FIA statement about the Concorde Agreement. I did not much fancy a weekend of political bickering and sniping in a soggy Belgian valley, surrounded by German racing fans who had drunk too much Bitburger.

The one saving grace is that Spa is the only decent racing circuit left in F1 these days - with the possible exception of Suzuka - although this can be forgotten when the silly noises in the paddock distract one's attention from the real reasons we go racing. Sometimes it is a good idea to go wandering away from the motorhomes to watch racing cars in action.

Sure enough, in the paddock there was plenty of frothing at the mouth about the Concorde Agreement.

I can hear you now asking: "What is it all about?" and "Does it really matter?" The answer is that it isn't that important an issue but it is not easy to explain why. In the paddock at Spa there was endless conjecture about who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. The truth is that in F1 there is no good nor bad. There are the quick and the dead - to misuse a biblical expression. There are wolves and the sheep. Sheep are silly and get eaten.

In the current dispute over the Concorde Agreement the attitude of Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and Ken Tyrrell is incomprehensible. Perhaps they feel that they have sufficient power within the sport to stand up to the FIA's Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley; perhaps they even feel that there are principles at stake - which is a silly idea in F1 because there are no principles - only vested interests. What they clearly have failed to notice is the political reality of Grand Prix racing at the moment.

You can argue that their stand against the Ecclestone system is laudable - even if it is motivated primarily by money - but that really is not important because it is doomed to failure. Frank, Ron and Ken have all done great things over the years in F1 (the latter two historically-speaking) but the fact is that F1 teams no longer have political power. They might be able to swing things if they were more united but this is impossible because Flavio Briatore always acts as Bernie's fifth column in the teams. He has votes from two teams - Benetton and Ligier - and so if there is a contentious issue the teams will, inevitably, be divided and thus cannot win.

I will let you into a secret, there is a way in which Ecclestone and Mosley can be beaten. I am not saying that is a good thing, merely pointing out the possibilities. It is really quite simple - I use that word rather than "easy" - and I suppose if I was commercially minded I would advertise the answer in racing magazines under the headline: "Send 100 and I will tell you how to get an executive jet and offices in London and Paris". I am not that clever. I know how to beat Bernie and Max - but I am not dumb enough to try...

Our dynamic duo learned back in the famous "FISA-FOCA war" of 1980-1982 that you cannot beat the federation. This is peopled by men in blazers. At the time Ecclestone was boss of the Brabham team and Mosley was the former boss of the March F1 team, who acted as Ecclestone's legal eagle. They were rebels against the establishment. They represented the FOCA teams (Brabham, Williams, McLaren, Lotus, Ligier, Arrows and so on) and their primary aim was to make money. This got them into a series of fights with the governing body of the sport - known as the FISA - which was run by eccentric Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre. Other teams, known as the "legalists" (Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo and Toleman), felt that they should stay allied to the governing body. FOCA fought a robust campaign but the conflict ended in a compromise, which was called the Concorde Agreement. It was both a peace treaty between FOCA and FISA and a blueprint which detailed how the sport should be run.

The Concorde Agreement gave the FIA a considerable financial income by ceding some of its power in exchange for a percentage of the television rights for F1 racing. These were given to the teams, to be exploited by Ecclestone. Everyone gained. The Concorde Agreements of 1982-86, 1987-91, 1992-1996 have kept the sport on an even keel for 12 years.

Balestre's new income made the FISA more important than its parent body, the FIA, and so it was no surprise that in October 1986 Balestre was elected FIA president.

As the sport grew Ecclestone and the other team owners grew to be very rich. Everyone in the sport made good money - mechanics, engineers, designers, suppliers, caterers, even journalists. Stability brought growth.

For Ecclestone and Mosley, however, this was not as interesting as the good old days when they warred with Balestre. They had learned an important lesson back then: no matter how brilliant they were, no matter how clever their scheming, they had only been able to draw with the FISA. They had been kept in check by the men in blazers. The old saying goes: "If you can't beat them, join them" and that is exactly what Mosley and Ecclestone set out to do. In the same week in which Balestre became FIA president, Mosley was elected president of the FISA Manufacturers' Commission. It was a low profile job but one of influence within the FISA. Mosley used his political skills to the full and played himself in as a major player in the political circles of the FISA.

Two years later Ecclestone was appointed FIA Vice-President (Promotional Affairs) by Balestre. This suited both parties because Ecclestone wanted to continue to make money out of F1, to which the FIA held all the rights, and Balestre wanted someone to do the job properly and make the FIA more money. It was a perfect marriage.

Mosley moved against Balestre in 1991. He had carefully studied the FISA system and concluded that in order to oust Balestre he would need support from all the automobile clubs around the world, rather than concentrating on winning over the traditionally powerful European clubs, which controlled the FISA. He also realized that regional politics were important as clubs tended to vote with the biggest club in their region. Mexico, for example, carried the votes of most of the central America countries and when Japan voted one way, most of the Asian votes followed suit. Mosley politicked carefully.

Much to Balestre's surprise he was beaten by Mosley for the FISA presidency in October that year. A year later he faced re-election at the FIA. Forces were gathering within the FIA to oust him and so Balestre agreed to support a reformed FIA. This offered him the perfect way to ease himself out of the FIA, without being defeated in another election. He would stand down and propose that FISA be abolished and that Mosley replace him as FIA President. The reform was launched at a meeting in Prague in April 1993 and came into being under its new President Max Mosley in October 1993.

The rebels had penetrated and taken over the establishment. The irony of this was that after years of fighting with Balestre, gradually pinning him down, Mosley and Ecclestone then found themselves caught in their own traps. For the last three years they have quietly being unpicking their work and undermining the power of the teams. The power now lies very firmly with "the old boys in the blazers" at the FIA.

The World Motor Sport Council, which makes all the decisions related to the sport, has 24 members. They are a curious bunch. There is a Portuguese car dealer, a Monegasque MP, a Greek gentlemen, an Australian chemist, a Swedish management consultant, a couple of South American bankers, a Belgian baron (President of European Union of Salmon Breeders in his spare time). There is a New Zealand engineer, an Indian cinema owner and a Japanese foreign correspondent. The Council is rounded off with a Jordanian prince, a British fighter pilot and an Argentine academic and military vehicle designer, a Finnish steel metal dealer, a Swiss air conditioning manufacturer and an American racing wheeler-dealer.

They are an odd bunch to be deciding the fate of the world of motor sports but they are all clever politicians or good survivors and so they know how best to play the game. Do they understand the issues involved in F1? Well, they certainly understand what Bernie and Max tell them. No-one else seems to do much in the way of priming them so it is not really a surprise that they tend to favor Max and Bernie. The fact that the dynamic duo also make the FIA vast sums of money. These enable Mosley to have an executive jet at his disposal and offices in London and Paris but also mean that the club has money to do other things, such as its political campaigns in the European Parliament. There are, of course, other advantages. Delegates get to fly to Paris from time to time to make decisions and have a nice time...

All one has to do, therefore, to break the Ecclestone-Mosley stranglehold is to be elected president of the FIA. The President appoints the Vice-President (Promotional Affairs) as he chooses.

If Williams, Dennis and Tyrrell do not like what is going on all they need to do is convince the FIA members clubs around the world to vote from them rather than for Mosley and they can do what they like in F1.

The fact is that to do this would take a great deal of political skill because Bernie and Max are the golden boys of the blazer brigade. There is one other drawback, of course. The FIA president is not paid a lot of money and so captains of industry do not apply for the job.

Williams, Dennis and Tyrrell earn far too much money to even consider doing something as silly as working for the FIA - and so the status quo will remain as it is.

And so Bernie and Max will not be beaten and everyone in F1 - journalists included - will continue to be reminded that they are where they are thanks to Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Mosley.

Until, of course, someone else in the sport is willing to take the risks and challenge for the big prize.

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