THE MOLE

Moon River

A couple of weeks ago FIA President Max Mosley turned up at Imola for an amiable exchange of views with the Formula 1 press. It was, for Mosley, nothing more than a pre-breakfast fencing match. He lunged, he parried and he riposted and then popped off to do something important.

What was interesting was not what he said but what he did not say.

There were no great statements of intention. It was very unlike Mosley and The Mole concluded that Max went to Imola to meet the automobile manufacturers and felt that if he did so without chatting to the media he would be frowned upon. No politician likes that.

The following Monday there burst upon The Times in London a front page story about Ecclestone's Million (the political donation which caused such a huge scandal in 1997 when it was suggested that Our Bernard had paid the Labour Party to change its policy). It seems that this was not entirely the truth and one of the skeletons in Tony Blair's cupboard jumped out and went "Boo!" and it was Blair's bones which rattled rather than those of the skeleton.

This was not the usual smash-and-burn use of the media that so many in Formula 1 employ (thinking themselves clever for misleading the dull scribes). This was a subtle thing of beauty in the Machiavellian arts. An Audrey Hepburn of stitch-ups. For the rest of the day The Mole found himself singing Moon River in praise of Mosley and his Merry Men.

Life on the country estate has taught The Mole that old dogs do not learn new tricks and so he immediately decided to send out one of his operatives to find out what was happening within the Federation for it to have been able to have done such an artistic thing after years of hopping about with its foot in its mouth and its trousers around its ankles

The investigations revealed that much change is quietly afoot within the FIA and The Mole's team traced this back to the payment last summer of $309m (with an extra $51m due later) by SLEC, the Formula 1 commercial rights holder. This money enabled the FIA to establish The FIA Foundation (which is registered as a charity in Great Britain) which will push forward with the FIA's campaigns on road safety and the environment, to give automobilists a stronger voice with governments and international organisations.

This is rather a dull idea for motor racing people and so most people in Formula 1 ignored the foundation of the foundation. It was, they said, a good thing because it would be Mosley's new plaything and would keep him out of the sport.

They missed an important point (which is not unusual in the blinkered world of F1). The deal also marked the independence of the FIA from F1 money or, to put it another way, the sport can no longer tell the FIA what to do. He who holds the purse strings, holds the power. Now the FIA can have policies of its own. The teams control the technical regulations but the FIA is the protector of the sport and has power to bring about change if it chooses to do so.

The second thing of import that happened was in September last year when Mosley was re-elected as President of the FIA for another four-year term. Once that was out of the way there were some quiet reforms in the federation. David Ward was appointed the managing-director of the Foundation and, at the same time, was named as secretary-general of the FIA's Automobile and Touring Division. More importantly, however, a decision was quietly taken that the FIA's public relations operation would come until his control and that the press office would move back to Paris.

There was talk for a while of the federation buying one of the impressive buildings on the Place de la Concorde but in the end it was decided that the organisation would simply take over a chunk of the Automobile Club de France and that there would be a new headquarters building for the Foundation in London. A few weeks ago Mosley invested a large sum of money to buy Serck House, a four-storey building at 60-61 Trafalgar Square. This used to house the Mexican Government Tourist Office. Being just down the road from a large number of government ministries, 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and, of course, London's most exclusive gentlemen's clubs one can assume that those who use these offices will be fairly active lobbying politicians, senior civil servants and other ruling classes.

The FIA will retain offices in Brussels (to sew its seeds at the European Commission) and in Geneva (so as to be friendly with the United Nations and other international organisations headquartered in that town).

Before we know it Mosley will be coming up with international treaties for the automobile (as the World Health Organisation is doing with matters relating to tobacco) and, as has been proved in recent days by The Times, the sport can be a powerful weapon for these campaigns.

Perhaps rather than taking Mosley away from the sport, the Foundation is actually going to be make him more of a player. It struck The Mole, as he was stirring his tea, that when you are a major international organisation, battling with governments, one's status would be greatly enhanced if one was seen to be working in close cooperation with the automobile manufacturers.

German media magnates are good for paying bills but when they are insolvent it is not brilliant for the image.

And brilliant is clearly what the FIA Foundation wants to be.

"Moon Ri-ver... Wider than a mile. I'm crossing you in style some da-a-ay."

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